Welcome to Play On, California Blog Archive! Since March, we’ve kept a daily update on how musicians here in the Golden State are keeping the music playing while they’re sheltering in place. While the concert halls are dark, we’ve shined the spotlight on our great California musicians on air weekdays at noon and on the Play On, California! Blog. We’re highlighting in detail some of the incredible efforts taken on by our arts communities to share music on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, their own websites and more! Below, you can explore the Play On, California! archives. If you have any favorites to add, let us know in the comments. Music Heals. The Arts Unite. Play on!
As we continue to celebrate the holiday weekend, Marin Symphony recently released a video of a virtual concert that they recorded earlier this year, the first time they’d played together in over a year. They assembled at a church in Novato, and to keep in compliance with distancing and performance protocols, the 3 pieces on the program, led by Music Director Alasdair Neale, were for different sections of the orchestra. They began with the American classic by Aaron Copland, Fanfare for the Common Man, which spotlights the brass and percussion (literally starting with a ‘bang’ – from the bass drum, timpani and tam-tam, before the trumpets begin). Next is a work for woodwinds, Charles Gounod’s Petite Symphonie, and they ended with Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings. The orchestra will begin its 2021-22 season in early November, joined by guest soloist, pianist Orli Shaham. They’ll play Jessie Montgomery’s reimagining of the national anthem, Banner, along with the Schumann Piano Concerto and the first symphony of Johannes Brahms.
The video roadtrip adventures of Etienne Gara and YuEun Kim continue – the pair of violinists from the ensemble Delirium Musicum (Gara is founder and Artistic Director) travelled around California in a 1971 VW bus named Boris, giving spontaneous concerts. The journey, which is being chronicled in a series of videos, has taken them already to beaches, orchards, vineyards, and even an ostrich farm. The series of ‘Musikaravan’ episodes is being presented by Delirium Musicum and The Soraya. Here’s the latest installment:
The latest album from composer John Luther Adams was more than 30 years in the making. Arctic Dreams is a seven-movement work for four singers, four string players, and several layers of digital delays. It’s evolved out of the very first commission he ever wrote for a non-Alaskan organization, Earth and the Great Weather, which came at the pivotal moment when he decided to quit his day job (at the urging of Lou Harrison) and become a full-time composer. That first incarnation, from 1989, was a full-on radio piece. It had field recordings, spoken texts in indigenous languages, and drums. At the core of it though, were recordings that he made of aeolian harps – which are “played” by the wind as it blows across the tundra. As he revisited the piece, those recordings were swapped out for a quartet of string players – with their strings tuned to resonate with the “overtones” that occur above a note in nature. By the year 2000, for a production at a London opera house, he added four singers. With electronics that would repeat the sound of the singers and strings with specific time delays, just 8 musicians could expand into a seeming orchestra and choir. But the drums and spoken words and other field recordings were still there, and attempts to capture an updated recording were frustrating. “I came to feel that as a theatrical experience, as an evening in the theater, it was a rich, meaningful experience,” Adams says. “But as a recording, it felt curiously cinematic to me… I kept pushing those other elements farther and farther down into the mix.” In 2020, he asked his friend, the late writer Barry Lopez, if he might borrow the title of one of Lopez’s best-known books, Arctic Dreams, and returned to the piece yet again. “And as I went back to it, I realized… Wait a minute, the core of this thing, the musical heart, as a purely aural experience is the strings and the voices. We don’t need anything else.” The unique soundscape is evocative of the tundra that inspired it. “It’s all a matter of paying attention,” he says.”It’s all a matter of where you put your focus… You look out across the Arctic coastal plain and you think ‘there’s nothing here.’ And then you slow down and you start paying attention… It’s astonishing how much richness of texture and detail and depth and intricacy and color there is.”
The Fall schedule of the San Francisco Symphony has been released, with Esa-Pekka Salonen and his collaborative partners offering his delayed first full season. There’s a “Re-Opening Night Gala” on October 1st featuring vocalist and bassist Esperanza Spalding and Alonzo King LINES Ballet. And later that month there’s a concert with flutist Claire Chase as soloist, and another with the US premiere of Bryce Dessner’s Violin Concerto, played by yet another of the partners, Pekka Kuusisto. In the spring, soprano Julia Bullock has a special concert event called “History’s Persistent Voice.” There are explorations of Stravinsky’s works, with performances of Oedipus Rex and Symphony of Songs, along with the Rite of Spring and his Violin Concerto. And there will also be a digital-only production of A Soldier’s Tale. There’s a mini-festival centering around Prometheus, who in Greek mythology stole fire from the gods to give it to mankind. Michael Tilson Thomas returns to the podium for four weeks of concerts, in his first role as Music Director Laureate, and at the end of January, mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke has a recital called “How Do I Find You,” of 17 world-premiere pieces written for her during the pandemic. SoundBox returns for its eighth season, and digital offerings will continue to be available through SFSymphony+.
Photo by Minna Hatinen
The Industry, LA’s groundbreaking opera company, has changed its leadership structure – Yuval Sharon, who founded them in 2012, is now joined by two Co-Artistic Directors. Ash Fure is a sonic artist and composer who teaches at Dartmouth College and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Music, and Malik Gaines co-founded the musical performance art group called “My Barbarian.” Yuval Sharon said about the change: “The multiplicity of voices is what makes the projects so exciting, so that should be how we are as an organization.” A good example for how innovative The Industry is was the 2015 piece Hopscotch, which was written by six teams of librettists and composers, and took place in 24 cars driving around Los Angeles with audience and artists.
A Baroque monastery in Spain serves as the locale for a concert of Baroque music by J.S. Bach… Guitarist David Russell gives another recital in a series called Omni On-Location, presented by the Bay Area-based Omni Foundation for the Performing Arts. They’ve got a regular series that brings world-famous guitarists to San Francisco from all over the world. During the pandemic, they’ve switched things around, and made virtual concerts available for free, with the soloists playing in historic settings. For this concert of a transcription of Bach’s first lute suite, Russell is in the monastery in Celanova, in northwestern Spain, near the Portuguese border. In an earlier video from the Spring, he played in three Spanish churches from the 12th Century. Others in the series are a recital by Xuefei Yang in an 18th Century temple in Beijing, and one by Marko Topchii from a cathedral in Kiev, Ukraine.
The San Francisco Symphony’s Summer Season gets underway this Friday night, beginning the holiday weekend with a program of all-American music conducted by Edwin Outwater at Davies Symphony Hall. That program is repeated on Sunday, but outside, at the Stern Grove Amphitheater. That inside and outside option will be repeated for all but the last of the remaining performances, with Friday evenings inside at Davies, and then Saturday evenings at Frost Amphitheater at Stanford. Esa-Pekka Salonen will lead the first two of those programs, on the weekends of July 9th and 16th, followed by Michael Morgan, Lina Gonzalez-Granados, and Xian Zhang. For the series closer on August 12th and 13th (Thursday and Friday evenings), Edwin Outwater will return to Davies for a program of John Williams’ film music.
Photo by Brandon Patoc
The San Diego Opera will return to giving performances this coming season, but the first production won’t be until February. In the Fall, there will be three operatic recitals, beginning with mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe, who was originally scheduled to be in Puccini’s Suor Angelica and Gianni Schicchi in the 2020-21 season. The other two concerts are soprano Michelle Bradley, and Mexican tenor Arturo Chacón-Cruz. In February, SD Opera will present a new production of Così fan tutte, with baritone Gihoon Kim in the cast, who was just recently named BBC Cardiff’s Singer of the World 2021. In late March and early April, tenor Pene Pati and soprano Kristina Mkhitaryan are Romeo and Juliet in Gounod’s setting of the story, and in May, an opera that was supposed to be staged in the Spring of last year, Paola Prestini and Rinde Eckert’s choral opera, Aging Magician.
The artists of the Merola Opera Program will be performing a concert called “What the Heart Desires” this Saturday afternoon, a program that “celebrates diversity in song.” The repertoire is by composers who are women and people of color, and take on the theme of desire from the personal to the global, in categories like “Passion,” “A Better World,” “A Different Life,” and “Love.” It’s co-curated by mezzo-soprano Ronnita Miller, who was a Merolini in the class of ‘05, and tenor Nicholas Phan. 11 of the singers and pianist/coaches will be involved in the program, which will be made available to Merola members on the 16th of July, and then publicly released on the 30th. The season had to be shortened this year (many of the artists had been accepted into the program last year, before the cancellations). There will be a digital release in August called “Back Home: Through the Stage Door,” and the Grand Finale concert which will be released to the public in early September.
Ronnita Miller – Merola ’05
A new work sung by the LA Master Chorale had its virtual premiere last week, as part of the celebration of Juneteenth – and along with the debut of the music, there was also the public debut of a new last name for the composer. Derrick Skye (who had been known as Derrick Spiva, Jr.) chose to take the new name as a way of reclaiming his heritage. The piece, called “Ready, Bright” is a Master Chorale commission, with a text that celebrates freedom and new beginnings. The singers, in high-contrast black and white close-ups are intercut with a dance solo by Yeko Ladzekpo-Cole, that’s shot in saturated colors.
Composer Hector Armienta and his Latinx-Hispanic company Opera Cultura are premiering a short animated film called “Mi Camino” Friday evening at 7. It’s a mini-opera, with a libretto based on interviews Armienta conducted with farmworkers about their experiences working through the pandemic, as well as wildfires. The featured singers are soprano Cecilia Violetta López, mezzo-soprano Deborah Rosengaus, and tenor Emmanuel Mercado. The visuals combine virtual recreations of Half Moon Bay, Gilroy, and other farming communities, with the singers or their digital avatars placed in those locations. After the Friday premiere, there will be a Q&A period with the composer, singers, and technical team. And there’s an additional screening on Sunday afternoon.
The Ann Patchett novel Bel Canto inspires the programming of the final concert of the Pasadena Conservatory of Music’s “Musical Interlude” series. The book tells of an opera diva whose command performance at a South American mansion is interrupted when a terrorist group takes all the guests hostage. The setting for this recital was Villa del Sol d’Oro in Sierra Madre, with PCM faculty soprano Mariné Ter-Kazaryan standing in for the book’s diva, Roxane Coss. Selections include the “Song to the Moon” from Rusalka, “O Mio Babbino Caro” from Gianni Schicchi, and other arias mentioned or referred to in the novel. There are also solo piano works by Ginastera and Liszt, and Arvo Pärt’s Spiegel im Spiegel for cello and piano. The concert is hosted by actress (and board member) Jane Kaczmarek, with passages of Patchett’s text serving as introductions to the music.
Pasadena Conservatory of Music
Valley of the Moon Music Festival is offering a free preview concert Thursday night at 6:00, with the title “Long-Distance Love: Brahms & Beethoven.” The festival itself will be running in the second half of July, with a mixture of pre-recorded, live-streamed, and in-person concerts. The theme this year is “Love and Longing: Reaching Across the Distance.” It’s a good match for the emotions that many have felt during the past year, being separated from loved ones, society, and the concert hall. The preview concert will have Beethoven’s song cycle “To the Distant Beloved,” as well as Brahms’ Liebeslieder Waltzes, for a quartet of singers, and four-hands piano. Here’s a taste from a later program (July 29, not June), that includes this Piano Quartet by Gabriel Fauré:
The long-awaited return of the LA Phil to Disney Hall in October will mark the start of a jam-packed 2021-2022 season. In addition to the dozens of premieres and commissions, and a great roster of soloists and guest conductors, there will be the roll-out of the first season of the Pan-American Music Initiative. The five-year celebration of works from across the Americas has been a project Gustavo Dudamel had been hoping to start last year. It will include premieres, including from composer Gabriela Ortiz, this season’s curator for PAMI. The Power to the People festival will return, after an interrupted run last year, and Thomas Adès will curate a Gen X Festival in the Spring, that will include the US premiere of his work Dante, an LA Phil commission. Thomas Wilkins leads four concerts of music by Duke Ellington, and Susanna Mälkki leads a pair of programs spotlighting 20th and 21st century works. In the Spring, Gustavo Dudamel will lead a semi-staged production of Beethoven’s opera Fidelio, in a production with actors from the Deaf West Theatre, and hearing singers. After a 19-month absence from the hall, it’s going to be a time for celebration.
San Francisco Opera’s next season will mark a return to War Memorial Opera House, and a celebration of the Eun Sun Kim beginning as Music Director. The season launches with Tosca on August 21st, with Ailyn Perez and Michael Fabiano starring. There’s an Opera at the Ballpark special concert in September, called “Live and In Concert: The Homecoming.” It will be a recital with the Opera orchestra, soprano Rachel Willis-Sørensen, and mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton (who both appeared in Rusalka in the Summer of 2019). The performance will be simulcast to the jumbotron of Oracle Park. There are new productions of Fidelio in October, Così fan tutte in late November/early December, and the finale of their Mozart-Da Ponte trilogy, Don Giovanni next June. The Summer season also includes a return of Bright Sheng’s Dream of the Red Chamber, and a concert celebrating the music of Giuseppe Verdi, with soloists, orchestra, and chorus. And for the first time, they’ll be offering the chance to see three performances of Fidelio and Così as livestreams from home.
Opera Santa Barbara is returning to the stage with a production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold – their first ever Wagner. It’s a chamber adaptation by Jonathan Dove and Graham Vick of the work that begins the Ring Cycle, and is already the shortest of the four operas. This version trims it to just under two hours, with a smaller cast and orchestra than a full-blown production would require. When the mandatory closures began, they were the last group to perform before a live audience at the Lobero Theatre, and they’ll be the first to do so after the lifting of the restrictions. The performance will be live this Sunday afternoon at 2:30.
Photo by Zach Mendez
The San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus ends their 42nd season with a Pride celebration they’re calling “Wired.” It’s an all-virtual program that will include premieres of video performances, special guests, as well as a look back at the history of the ensemble. Founded in 1978, with their first concert at a vigil for Mayor Moscone and Harvey Milk, they went on their first national tour in 1981. Among the special segments of the program will be a video featuring 21 of the singers where were on that trip 40 years ago. Another highlight will be a movement from a musical by 24-year-old composer Julian Hornick, which was to have had its premiere last Spring. The concert will be streaming on the Chorus’s YouTube and Facebook pages Thursday at 6pm.
San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus
Thursday night, Renée Fleming will be giving a concert in person at the Irvine Barclay Theatre, joined by pianist Inon Barnatan. It’s a co-presentation with the Philharmonic Society of Orange County, and it’s being offered two ways: both as a live event, or as a virtual (albeit delayed) one. Ticket buyers are given the choice of attending the performance, or seeing it about two days later. The repertoire includes Handel arias, lieder by Schubert and Richard Strauss, and songs by composer and jazz orchestra leader Maria Schneider. There will also be some selections from the world of opera, musical theater, and pop.
Photo by Andrew Eccles
It’s a “viral” commissioning project in a way – cellist Matt Haimovitz has just released the first batch of recordings as part of what he’s calling the Primavera Project. In the end, a total of 81 composers will be contributing pieces about 5 minutes in length, inspired by the Botticelli painting Primavera (Spring) and/or the work called Primavera 2020 by Charline von Heyl. But Haimovitz wanted to leave the comfort zone of only working with those he’s commissioned before, and so has asked each batch of composers to recommend names for the next group. So far, he says, each response has been very individual – with some focussing on an environmental lens, and the Springtime theme of rebirth; others were influenced by the Renaissance era of Botticelli, and turned toward early musical traditions. The first album, called Primavera I: the wind is on the Pentatone label.
On Saturday the US will be celebrating Juneteenth as an official federal holiday for the first time, marking the day that slaves in Galveston, Texas were told that they had been emancipated, almost 2 and a half years after Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. We’ll be observing the anniversary on our air from 2 – 5pm with Let Freedom Ring: A Musical Celebration of Juneteenth hosted by Lara Downes. The music will be played or composed by black musicians, and exploring the role that these artists and their work have played in our country’s musical history. Then on Sunday evening, there’s a special Juneteenth edition of From the Top, co-hosted by cellist (and Pentatonix singer) Kevin Olusola. We’ll hear 12-year-old cellist Emma Spence from Los Altos play a work by Florence Price, and Olusola will play an arrangement of the Sam Cooke song “A Change is Gonna Come” with a pair of FtT alumni from Los Angeles: violinist Hannah White, and pianist Clifton Williams.
Opera is an industry that is dominated by men – in recent years, fewer than 30% of directors, and fewer than 15% of conductors have been women. In an effort to start evening the playing field, OPERA America has just presented its first round of grants, a total of $36,650 to “incentivize opera companies to hire women for key artistic leadership roles.” There were nine recipients in this round, representing a wide number of states, but two of them are from California: conductor Jenny Wong at Long Beach Opera, and stage director Indre Viskontas at Berkeley’s West Edge Opera. This August, Wong will be conducting a feminist-reimagined double-bill of Pierrot Lunaire by Arnold Schoenberg, and Voices from the Killing Jar by contemporary composer Kate Soper. Indre Viskontas will be stage directing three performances of Janacek’s Katya Kabanova at the end of July and early August, as part of this year’s West Edge Festival.
It’s going to be a season of celebrating at the Oakland Symphony – both the return to the Paramount Theatre in October, and also the 30th anniversary of Conductor and Music Director Michael Morgan. Over the years he’s made his mark on the orchestra, wanting to reflect the diversity of the audience in his programming, and being inclusive so that the audiences feel welcome in the first place. Throughout the season, there are large works by composers of color and women, including Amy Beach’s infrequently programmed Gaelic Symphony, and Lara Downes playing the Florence Price Piano Concerto. Their “Playlist” series continues in February, with dancer/choreographer Debbie Allen curating the selections. There are plenty of standard repertoire warhorses too, including the Dvorak Symphony No. 8 and Brahms Symphony No. 4 – and the season ends with Beethoven’s “Eroica” in March and the Verdi Requiem in May, with the Oakland Symphony Chorus.
Michael Morgan, photo courtesy Oakland Symphony
Festival Mozaic was to have its 50th anniversary season last year, but they had to postpone it. This year’s festival runs from the 24th of July to the 31st, and begins with a program called “Baroque in the Vines” at the outdoor chapel in Shandon. Single tickets San Luis Obispo-based festival are on sale as of Wednesday, and there are Chamber Series concerts (at SLO Brew Rock brewery, and Miossi Hall at the Performing Arts Center) as well as the Mozaic Series, which offers two non-classical programs: the cabaret/tango quartet called Grand Orquestra Navarre on the 25th, and Guatemalan singer-songwriter Gaby Moreno on the 29th.
San Francisco Performances has announced their upcoming season – including many returning soloists and ensembles, but also several series. The first program in October launches the “Uncovered” series, with the Catalyst Quartet playing works by composers who’ve been overlooked because of their race or gender. In four programs throughout the season, they’re joined by Stewart Goodyear, Anthony McGill, Dashon Burton, and Michelle Cann. The PIVOT festival returns, including Theo Bleckmann (who was part of their virtual festival earlier this year,) and Post:ballet and the Living Earth Show with a Samuel Adams world premiere. The Sanctuary series, which launched during the pandemic, returns to show music as a source of solace and refuge. Isata Kenneh-Mason makes her SF Performances debut, as well as mandolin virtuoso Avi Avital, joining the long list of returning chamber musicians and singers. You can find more information and schedules at the San Francisco Performances website.
Catalyst Quartet – Photo by Ricardo Quinones
A chamber work commissioned by the Pacific Symphony, which was meant to be performed by players who couldn’t necessarily share a stage, has had its virtual premiere. Composer Margaret Brouwer wrote the piece Parallel Isolations, the title of which sums up the experience of many of us, and many of the musicians over the past year. For the chamber music series Café Ludwig, pianist Orli Shaham is the pianist, joined (from another location) by a trio of Pacific Symphony players: Principal cellist Warren Hagerty, Concertmaster Dennis Kim, and Principal flutist Ben Smolen (playing an alto flute).
Quartet San Francisco is among the finalists in the ensembles category of a competition celebrating the centennial of Astor Piazzolla. The father of the modern tango, Piazzolla took it from the dance halls of Argentina to concert halls around the world. He infused elements of both Classical and jazz into it, and taught the world about the accordion’s cousin, the bandoneon. The Piazzolla Foundation (in association with the composer’s family) are holding the competition, and the winners will be announced tomorrow. Here is the entry that QSF submitted, an arrangement of “Nuevo Tango” by quartet founder and violinist, Jeremy Cohen.
Composer Julius Eastman’s works have been growing in popularity in the more than 30 years since his death. Many of the scores to his works were lost – or given as gifts to friends – but some of those have resurfaced, and others have been transcribed from recordings. He was a gay, black composer when those were enormous obstacles to overcome. The LA-based ensemble Wild Up has been championing his works, and has just released the first of a multi-album anthology of his music. They’ll be playing his minimalist work Femenine at the Julianne and George Argyros Plaza at Segerstrom Hall this Thursday evening.
J.S. Bach wrote hundreds of chorales in his various church duties as a composer – they were four-part harmonizations of tunes that were originally intended to be sung. But they also have served as a great teaching tool for the rules of both harmony and “voice leading” – how each part moves from note to note. Dr. Aaron Lington is the coordinator of the Jazz Studies Program at San Jose State University, and plays primarily jazz these days, but he studied classical saxophone, and decided to return to the chorales during lockdown. He was inspired by the “Brady Bunch” style of videos of virtual performances, and used the time he wasn’t playing gigs to record chorales playing all four parts on his baritone sax, and posting the results to his Facebook page. Now 21 of them have been collected on a new recording on the Little Village label called 4 Bari x Bach. He says the chorales are a natural match for the instrument (although the range goes higher than the usual limit for a bari) and selected them based on their great melodies and “juicy chord progressions.”
After a season of “At Home” recorded concerts, Cal Performances has announced its upcoming season, with a return to in-person concerts and events. The season begins in August with a Greek Theatre appearance by Yo-Yo Ma, Stuart Duncan, Edgar Meyer and Chris Thile, under the title ‘Not Our First Goat Rodeo.’ Ensembles like The English Concert and the Danish String Quartet will be partnering across several seasons for performances of Handel operas and oratorios, and concerts and commissions, respectively. The Takács, Kronos, Tetzlaff and Spektral Quartets also will give concerts, and there are solo recitals by pianists Daniil Trifonov and Eric Lu, mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton, soprano Angel Blue, and violinist Tessa Lark. Cellist David Finckel and pianist Wu Han return, and making a duet premiere at Cal Performances, violinist Leonidas Kavakos plays with Yuja Wang. Plus, Mitsuko Uchida plays Mozart with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra. The season also includes their “Illuminations” series, which is called “Place and Displacement,” with music and scholarship from UC Berkeley exploring the effects of migration and gentrification on individuals and society.
Photo of Mitsuko Uchida by Justin Pumfrey
Pittance Chamber Music presents a free streaming concert this Sunday, featuring songs by Andre Previn. (The conductor/pianist/composer died in 2019) The first group, called Two Remembrances, has texts by Frau Ava, who was born in the 11th Century, and Expressionist poet Else Lasker-Schüler, who lived in Berlin until the mid-1930s, when she had to flee as the Nazis were rising in power. The second collection, called Four Songs, have texts by the writer Toni Morrison. They’ll be sung by soprano Elissa Johnston, accompanied by pianist Grant Gershon, LA Opera flutist Heather Clark, and cellist Michael Kaufman. Pittance Chamber Music got its start in 2013 when Lisa Sutton, Assistant Concertmaster of the LA Opera Orchestra, wanted to create an opportunity for “pit” musicians from her ensemble to play chamber music in front of the public.
Photo of Elissa Johnston, Grant Gershon, and Michael Kaufman by Pittance Chamber Music
Composers who left World War II Europe and settled in Hollywood are featured on the final concert of the season for Ensemble for these Times. Some, like Franz Waxman and Miklos Rozsa are well known to film buffs, but some, like Alexandre Tansman and Hanns Eisler remain little known, although they were nominated for Oscars for their scores for Paris Underground and None But the Lonely Heart. Their chamber works will be played by E4TT, and livestreamed on the Center for New Music’s YouTube channel. Emigres and Exiles in Hollywood finishes not only the season, but a several season series, and also includes several Polish composers, like Grazyna Becewicz.
Photo of Alexandre Tansman – Wikimedia Commons
Walt Disney Concert Hall will begin to have live audience performances once more, for the first time in more than a year, with a free concert on the 26th by the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, led by Jaime Martín. The concert is by invitation only, since there’s a roughly 50 percent capacity limit – but members of the community can enter for a chance to win a free ticket. There will be strictly enforced safety rules: audience members will have to be fully vaccinated and wear masks, and there will be neither an intermission nor the sale of food or drinks. The concert program has Alberto Ginastera’s Variaciones concertantes, then a work by contemporary Mexican composer Juan Pablo Contreras, celebrating his home state of Jalisco, called Mariachitlán, and ending with Mendelssohn’s “Italian” Symphony. If you don’t happen to get a ticket, don’t fear – the program will be streamed later in the summer, as part of LACO’s second SummerFest digital concert series.
Photo courtesy of LA Philharmonic
Launching this weekend – a musical performance that you can meander with. It’s called Soundwalk, by composer Ellen Reid, and once you’ve downloaded an app on your phone, it plays a piece that evolves depending on where you walk, based on GPS information. There are versions in several cities, including at Griffith Park in Los Angeles, but on Saturday it will also be in Golden Gate Park. It’s presented by the Kronos Performing Arts Association and the McEvoy Foundation for the Arts, to help kick off the 2021 Kronos Festival. Kronos Quartet performed some of the music that’s heard in Soundwalk. Ellen Reid describes it this way: “It is meant to serve as artistic nourishment — a place to recharge, reconnect, and re-energize.”
An mini-series opera in 8 parts, by 8 composers… desert in is a new kind of work, commissioned and produced by Boston Lyric Opera, in association with Long Beach Opera. LBO Artistic Director James Darrah directs several of the episodes. Each week, two episodes are being released for streaming on OperaBox.tv. It was filmed in Palm Springs, primarily, and combines aspects of many different kinds of works – there are singers like Isabel Leonard and Talise Trevigne, composers including Nico Muhly and Michael Abels, and also actors who don’t sing, and singers who remain ‘offstage’ as the story unfolds. “It’s part supernatural love story, and part dazzling long-form music video.”
San Francisco Performances has added something that was missing to their “Summer Music Sessions” series: singers! The first announcement of the lineup for the mini festival that runs in the second half of July was made before it was known for sure that they’d be allowed to include singers on the programs. Now that they know that they can, in addition to the pianists, guitarist and strings players, they’re adding programs with Gabriel Kahane, Nicholas Phan, and Lawrence Brownlee. The series (their first-ever summer concerts) will run from July 14th to the 24th, with 12 concerts in those 11 days. San Francisco Performances President Melanie Smith says: “The voice is the most personal instrument, and after 14 months of silence, it’s great to be able to include singing in these first live person-to-person concerts.”
Lawrence Brownlee, photo by Shervin Lainez
The Santa Barbara Symphony, while unable to provide their usual music education and outreach in person last year, created virtual versions of two of their most popular programs: the Music Van, and Concerts for Young People. One small silver lining following the last difficult year is that they’ll be making these available with the Santa Barbara County schools, and the general public for free. Instead of the mobile ‘instrument petting zoo’ of the Music Van, there’s a video with Music Van Docents and volunteers introducing young people to 16 different instruments; and instead of a live performance at the Granada Theatre, there’s a recorded concert program that will live on their website.
Music Van Docents, photo courtesy Santa Barbara Symphony
Revisiting an idea from early in the pandemic, composer Danny Clay and the guitar/percussion duo “The Living Earth Show” have released a video called Music for Hard Times, and this time they’re joined by musicians from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, as well as the San Francisco Girls Chorus. The original project tried to answer the question of whether it’s possible to use the tools of Classical Music to make people feel better. Music that was peaceful and calming was joined by visuals from nature, and around the Bay Area. This time around, the “score” was mostly made up of prompts or instructions that each musician would interpret and perform – and then those recordings would be layered and mixed by Clay to make the final piece. It ended up being a hybrid of a collaboration and a solo recording project. You can hear the results here – the discussion about the piece begins at 6:09, and the music begins at 13:30.
The 84th season of the Stern Grove Festival will launch on June 20th, with its tradition of running on ‘Ten Summer Sundays’ through August 29th. The programming for the concerts will be announced soon. Since its early days, the concerts have been free of charge, and that will continue. There have been a few changes planned for this year, mostly having to do with keeping people safe: there will be a limit on the capacity, to keep the crowds from becoming too big, and for that reason, a new reservation procedure has been set up. This will also be the first year ever that the concerts will be streamed live, for those who can’t make it to the park or meadow.
The Pacific Symphony is presenting a production of Verdi’s La Traviata for our times this Saturday night… Stage director Robert Neu, faced with the challenge of scaling the opera down, says the plot still works with the focus on only the three primary characters of Violetta, Alfredo, and his father. Rather than making it a “greatest hits” collection of arias, they’re telling the story as a series of flashbacks, and the fact that the work is filmed means that the performances can be more subtle – not having to play to the audience in the balconies. The running time is also shortened to about an hour and a half, and Music Director Carl St. Clair points out that the minimalist staging allows the orchestra to have a more focused role in the production. It premieres Saturday night at 7:00.
The Maxwell Quartet, which grew up together playing both classical and traditional folk music in Scotland, will have an opportunity to do both again as they wrap up the Music at Kohl Mansion performance season this Sunday. (There will be another stream the following Thursday). They’ll play Dvorak’s String Quartet No. 13, which he wrote after returning to his home in Prague following his trip to America. First violinist Colin Scobie says that idea of ‘homecoming’ rang true for them, as they spent much of the lockdown with two members in England, and two in Scotland, unable to cross the border. Also on the program will be some of their own arrangements of Scottish tunes. Here they are with a sampling of that repertoire:
The final installment of “Close Quarters” premieres this Friday from the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, with a performance of Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings. Grant Gershon is the guest conductor for the concert, with a larger group of musicians than have played together since February of 2020. As both a celebration of the beginning of a return to the familiar, and also a recognition of the challenges faced, the images that will accompany the music offer what they call “a poignant visual tone poem that reflects the diverse artistic family that LACO built through the series and chronicles Los Angeles’ emergence from the global pandemic”.
Photo by Ira Selendripity for Unsplash
The Irving M. Klein International String Competition returns this weekend, in its second online incarnation. There are nine semi-finalists vying for the top prize: five violinists, two violists, and two cellists, between the ages of 16 and 23. 128 entrants representing 16 nationalities were narrowed down to these nine, including Grace Huh from San Jose, who studies at the San Francisco Conservatory Pre-College Division. The semi-finals begin on Saturday at 10am, with the finalists then moving on to Sunday, after which the winners will be announced. The online competition will be co-hosted by violinist Tessa Lark, who was the winner in 2008, and Mitchell Sardou Klein. The prizes include cash and performance opportunities, including with the Peninsula Symphony and Santa Cruz Symphony.
Photo of Sory Park courtesy Klein Competition
It’s not the Bizet that we know from Carmen… Pacific Opera Project is staging a work he wrote almost 20 years earlier: a comic opera called Don Procopio, which is modeled on the popular Italian style of bel canto. The three performances over next weekend will be back at the lawn of the Heritage Square Museum, with shows starting at 8, and picnicking an hour earlier. The action has been moved to 1910 California, set at a Highland Park ostrich farm – the plot, with miserly old men and some attempted matchmaking that threatens true love, (of course) ends happily ever after. Setting the action in the early 20th century isn’t so far-fetched, actually – the premiere performance didn’t happen until 1906, more than 30 years after Bizet’s death.
Photo courtesy Pacific Opera Project
Tenor Pene Pati is profiled in the most recent edition of San Francisco Opera’s artist profile series called “In Song.” The Samoa-born singer has been through the Merola and Adler programs, as well as singing Romeo in Romeo and Juliet and the Duke of Mantua in Rigoletto, so he’s well known to San Francisco audiences. But he began singing with the other members of his family when he was still a child growing up in New Zealand, joking that his father formed a Pacific Islander version of the Von Trapp family, entertaining the residents at the retirement community he managed. Pati sings a traditional song “La’u Lupe” accompanied by his brother Amitai (with whom he performed in the trio Sol3 Mio) and sings Paolo Tosti’s “Serenata,” accompanying himself on a ukulele.
The 75th Ojai Music Festival is going to be a few months later than usual this year – moved from June to mid-September so they could plan an in-person festival to celebrate together. John Adams is Music Director this year, and the number of composers represented on the schedule is impressive – all the more so, since many will be there. There’s a world premieres by Dylan Mattingly – Sunt Lacrimae Rerum (these are the tears of things) – as well as the West Coast premiere of Samuel Adams’ Chamber Concerto. There’s a recital by pianist Vikingur Ólafsson, and a ‘dusk concert’ by violinist Miranda Cuckson; vocalist Rhiannon Giddens will be making several appearances, with the Attacca Quartet, Francesco Turrisi, as well as in the Festival Finale, when she’ll sing works by John Adams, with the composer conducting.
Photo by Musacchio Ianniello Pasqualini
A new video series that looks at how one art form can influence another begins today, with New Century Chamber Orchestra launching its Resonanceseries. In the first film, the musicians play Debussy’s Sacred and Profane Dances for harp and strings as fashion designer Colleen Quen creates a mixed-media sculpture, inspired by their performance. Next week, in the second film, choreographer Antoine Hunter will create a new dance work while listening to a performance of music by Missy Mazzoli. The series will live on their website, where the films can be watched for free. Earlier this week, the ensemble released a ticketed concert video that was recorded at Bing Concert Hall, the first time in more than a year that Daniel Hope and the musicians have been able to play together. That included the world premiere of a Double Concerto by Tan Dun, and it’s going to be available for viewing through the end of August.
Photo by David Law
LA Opera’s production of Oedipus Rex will mark their return to the indoors, with a concert performance at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on the afternoon of June 6th. James Conlon will conduct, and artist-in-residence Russell Thomas is in the title role, with J’Nai Bridges as Jocasta, and British actor Stephen Fry providing the pre-recorded narrator’s voice. It’s totally sold out, but there will be a subsequent online version for home viewing starting on the 17th. It’s an ideal production to stage in these early days of getting back inside: it’s not too long, so it can be performed without an intermission, and Stravinsky specifically wanted very little action on the stage – instead, there are projected animations by Manual Cinema. There’s a new air filtering system in the hall, and reduced seating, to comply with new Department of Health guidelines.
He might know more about virtual choirs than anyone else, at this point… Composer and conductor Eric Whitacre has led many ensembles in performances that have had to be edited together to be appreciated, but on Friday he’ll be leading a performance with singers in both Northern and Southern California. Irvine’s Southern California Children’s Chorus will join with the San Francisco Girls Chorus, and the Ragazzi Boys Chorus from Silicon Valley. Together, in real time, they’ll sing a new arrangement for upper voices of the work “Sing Gently.” They’ll be using the JackTrip Virtual Studio, which combines hardware and software to allow musicians to interact without the noticeable delay one can experience with regular video chat software. There will also be a Q&A session with Whitacre speaking with the co-founder of JackTrip. You can listen at noon on Friday on Eric Whitacre’s Facebook page.
Eric Whitacre – Photo by Marc Royce
A brand new venue will be the site of the San Diego Symphony’s season, beginning August 6th. Music Director Rafael Payare will lead their first concert, with the premiere of a work written for the orchestra by Mason Bates (Soundcheck in C Major), along with pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet, bass-baritone Ryan Speedo Green, and Payare’s wife, cellist Alisa Weilerstein as guest artists. The season will have more than 40 performances, with 8 led by Payare, and a host of guest conductors, soloists, and special events. The Rady Shell at Jacobs Park is surrounded on three sides by water, with views of downtown, the marina and the bay. It will be the home for concerts through November, including not only classical, but Broadway, film, jazz, pop, Latin, and classic rock.
Rady Shell – Courtesy San Diego Symphony
Berkeley Symphony collaborates with the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive for “Edgy Art,” the second installment of the “Real Berkeley” film series. The concert film premiered this Sunday on YouTube, with Musicians playing chamberworks in front of and surrounded by artwork from BAMPFA. The program includes music by Florence Price, Olivier Messiaen, Michael Daugherty, and Jessie Montgomery, and is guest curated by the museum’s director, Julie Rodrigues Widholm, introducing viewers to a retrospective of Rosie Lee Tomkins, and BAMPFA’s newest commission to its Art Wall, the work by Edie Fake called Affordable Housing for Trans Elders.
The Pacific Symphony premieres a work it commissioned with 3 other California ensembles tonight, called Alone Together. It was written by John Christopher Wineglass during the pandemic, in part as a project that would link the groups (the others are the San Jose Chamber Orchestra, Fresno Philharmonic, and Monterey Symphony) at a time when live music performance was impossible. The title also refers to the solitude that many of us felt during the time when interacting with each other in ordinary ways was also put on hold. And it’s written in memory of George Floyd, whose death and subsequent protests and outcry began many difficult conversations about racial inequity around the country. The piece itself is scored for strings and percussion, and lasts about 9 minutes. It will stream for free on the Pacific Symphony’s YouTube and Facebook pages from its premiere tonight through June 23rd.
John Christopher Wineglass – Photo by Randy Tunnell
120 Students will be playing music in 34 ensembles in 12 backyards this Sunday afternoon at 2:00 as the Los Angeles Youth Orchestra presents “Live in the Backyard 2,” a virtual chamber music concert. The presentation will be on Zoom as well as via Facebook Live. As the name would suggest, this is the second such concert in the past year. And based on the success of the prior concert that they released in December, they had 20 more musicians in their Spring semester. In order to make rehearsing safe and possible, they divided their 120 students into 34 different chamber ensembles, which were coached by a dozen professional players in a dozen outdoor locations.
Photo by Martin Knize for Unsplash
A partnership that spans the state… Tonight a free recital premieres that’s a co-production of LA Opera and Opera San Jose. It’s a Celebration of Latina Composers, curated by tenor Russell Thomas, who’s artist-in-residence at LA Opera, and part of their “After Hours” series of concerts. There are 11 women composers representing Mexico, Venezuela, Argentina, Cuba, and Peru, going back as far as the 19th Century soprano Ángela Peralta, and including four contemporary composers, including Gabriela Lena Frank and Mariela Rodríguez. Several of the singers are alumni of LA Opera’s Young Artist Program, and three are currently Resident Artists at Opera San Jose. The performance premieres tonight at five on both companies’ YouTube and Facebook pages, and then will be available on demand for a limited time.
Photo of Vanessa Becerra courtesy of Opera San Jose
For the first time ever, San Francisco Performances has announced a summer season, now that they’re going to be able to have performances indoors at Herbst Theatre. Their “Summer Music Sessions” will be a festival of concerts about 75 minutes long, with no intermission, with some of their favorite artists leading the way, like pianists Marc-André Hamelin and Garrick Ohlsson, the Alexander String Quartet, guitarist William Kanengiser, and violinist Jennifer Koh. The series will be from July 14th to the 24th, with a total of nine concerts (tickets go on sale June 14th). There will be assigned seating with limited capacity, and masks will be required to be worn during the performances. During this past year, they’ve featured at first archive, and then more recently newly recorded concerts and recitals, that they’ve offered in their “Front Row” and “Sanctuary” series. In the meantime, here’s Marc-André Hamelin having some fun with Chopin’s Minute Waltz:
The LA Phil begins its long-awaited Hollywood Bowl season with a special free concert that Gustavo Dudamel will be conducting this Saturday night, specifically by invitation only for frontline medical and essential workers. And KUSC will be broadcasting it live, with Brian Lauritzen hosting. They’ve announced their schedule for the summer (after another special concert on May 22nd), and the lineup has more than 50 performances. There are a lot of traditions returned to — Fourth of July fireworks, Weekend Spectaculars, big-named guest artists, and Mozart Under the Stars, with Dudamel conducting 14 performances — and also a lot of impressive soloists and conductors making their Bowl debuts: Sheku Kanneh-Mason and his sister Isata Kanneh-Mason appear on different programs, violinist Maria Dueñas, singers Julia Bullock and countertenor John Holiday; plus several women conductors on the podium, including Gemma New, Ruth Reinhardt, and Tianyi Lu. Returning artists like Yo-Yo Ma, Jean-Yves Thibaudet, Helene Grimaud, and Anne Akiko Meyers will perform, and the season also marks the kickoff of the multi-year Pan-American Music Initiative, a project that Dudamel had hoped to launch last season.
KDFC is teaming with the San Francisco Conservatory of Music for a special broadcast this Sunday night of Gian Carlo Menotti’s one-act opera, The Old Maid and the Thief. What sets this opera apart is that it was specifically written for radio, in 1939. And while the Conservatory has staged it many times before, this was the first time it had been performed as originally intended. With many of the tropes of radio dramas, including a narrator to set the scenes, and sound effects (provided by the Technology and Applied Composition department). It tells the story of a handsome beggar Bob (Marcus Lonardo) who knocks on the door of Miss Todd (Alexandra Sanchez), dazzling both her and her maid, Laetitia (Makenzie Jacquemin) – as they try to keep it a secret from nosy neighbor Miss Pinkerton (Katherine Ahmann). Dianne Nicolini will be introducing the production at 8:00 on Sunday.
This March, 18 dancers from American Ballet Theatre formed their own bubble, and were developing and rehearsing works at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa. They then performed several pieces live in front of an audience in April. Now, that program, called “Uniting in Movement” is available for ticketed on-demand viewing from today through the 26th. It was the first performance at the theater since March of last year, and one of the works, by choreographer Lauren Lovette (who’s a Principal Dancer with the New York City Ballet) had just been created in the days leading up to last year’s lockdown. There was also a work by choreographer Darrell Grand Moultrie, to music of Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and Billy Strayhorn, and two other, classical pas de deux to Tchaikovsky and Auber.
In their final “Explorers” concert called “Transcendence,” Music@Menlo presents the Calidore String Quartet this Sunday, in a concert that suggests the turning of a corner. They’ll play Schubert’s Death and the Maiden, which was written when Schubert was in failing health, and wasn’t published until after his own death, along with Samuel Barber’s Quartet, the second movement of which became the standalone “Adagio.” That piece has a long association with mourning and times of national tragedy. The quartet says of the program: We perform these two powerful and cathartic works to console and offer hope as we emerge from a turbulent and challenging period in history.” Just ahead, beginning in mid-July, the 19th season of the Music@Menlo Summer festival called “Gather” will run for three weekends, with virtual performances, and some in-person concerts.
Photo of the Calidore Quartet by Marco Borggreve
Santa Barbara Symphony is wrapping up its season with a program that honors “the strength, perseverance, hope, creativity, and community of Santa Barbara.” It’s the end of a long and difficult season, and the program is called “Triumph.” Nir Kabaretti will lead a fanfare by Benjamin Britten, Beethoven’s beloved Seventh symphony, and pianist Awadagin Pratt plays Mozart’s piano concerto No. 12 in A Major. There will also be a movement from a guitar concerto by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, played by 13-year-old soloist Joseph Malvinni, who won the 2021 Santa Barbara Youth Symphony Concerto Competition.
Photo of Nir Kabaretti by David Bazemore
The concert premiere of the Redwood Violin happens this Saturday evening – the instrument that luthier Andrew Carruthers has made from materials that are all sourced from within 25 miles of his workshop. The instrument will be played by the co-concertmaster of the Santa Rosa Symphony’s Young People’s Chamber Orchestra, Aedan Seaver, playing a work written for the occasion by YPCO cellist Gwendolyn Przyjazna. The concert was recorded at the Phoenix Theater in Petaluma in April, and features music by underrepresented composers including Marianne von Martinez, Johan Helmich Roman, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, Scott Joplin, and William Grant Still. And this Tuesday evening, the Santa Rosa Symphony Youth Orchestra will play its final virtual concert of the season, with a program called “Wanderlust,” with music by Britten, Holst, and Leonard Bernstein.
Just before the lockdown began, violinist and MacArthur “genius” Vijay Gupta played a concert at The Wallis of chamber music that had been written by his wife, Reena Esmail. In October, they released it on an album with the title “Breathe: Music of Reena Esmail.” The recent COVID crisis in India has led them to re-release the album on Bandcamp, with all the proceeds through the end of May going to the non-profit BREATHE INDIA, which is delivering desperately needed oxygen concentrators to Indian hospitals. The re-release includes the Piano Trio, and four other works, two of them not on the original recording. Tomorrow evening at 6, Gupta is the guest for The Salastina’s regular Zoom “Happy Hour” of music and conversation. It’s free, but requires a reservation.
Playing music for an appreciative audience is always rewarding, and a group of cellists in a little coastal town in Denmark has found a warm reception in an unlikely venue: playing in a barn for cows (along with a limited number of people as well). It’s the “Scandinavian Cello School,” founded by cellist Jacob Shaw, who helps young players both musically and with some of the nuts and bolts of the professional life: planning concert programs, and dealing with work/life balance, and more. Playing for the cows might have been a bit of a distraction (and a chance to play in front of an audience as things had ground to a halt) but now the word has gotten out, it’s bound to be a destination for cow and cello-loving audiences.
This Sunday night at 7 on From the Top, it’s a blast from the not too distant past, as the Fervida Piano Trio from Burlingame appears. Their name is from the Latin word for passionate, and they play on a program that was taped in Portland, Maine, at the end of 2019, hosted by pianist Orli Shaham. The repertoire is the opening movement from Beethoven’s “Ghost Trio” (Op. 70, No. 1) The group was invited to play on the national broadcast after they won the gold medal in the 2019 Junior Division of the Fischoff National Chamber Music Competition at Notre Dame University in Indiana. Here are violinist Sean Mori, cellist Angeline Kiang, and pianist Karina Tseng at that competition.
It’s a celebration of Mother’s Day with plenty of strings and trumpets, as The Ford offers a “Día de las Madres” free concert on Sunday afternoon. There’s a lineup of some great Mariachi performances from seasons past, but notably (and appropriately for the day) there are more women musicians than men in this particular show. Along with Mariachi Ángeles de Pepe Martínez Jr. and Steeven Sandoval’s groups, there are five all-female ensembles: New York City’s Flor de Toloache, Las Colibrí, Mariachi Femenil Nuevo Tecalitlán, Marisa Ronstadt, and the young band from the training academy called Las Jovencitas. Plus, Ballet Folklorico Ollin, one of the top Mexican folk dance groups in the United States. The program starts at 3:30 on The Ford’s Facebook and YouTube pages.
Starting at 10am this Sunday, the Crowden School in Berkeley will be offering a free day-long outdoor piano concert called “Hear Together”. It’s their celebration of the return to live music performances, and they’re pulling out all the stops. The first hour will be Crowden students and faculty, followed by 45 minute sets (with 15 minute breaks) by Monica Chew, Liz Dorman, Tammy Hall and Leberta Lorál, Marcos Silva, Allegra Chapman, and Sarah Cahill. In the afternoon, composer Dylan Mattingly will play improvisations, and the culmination of the day, starting at 5:00, will be Robert Fleitz playing Mattingly’s epic work (in both scale and inspiration) Achilles Dreams of Ebbets Field. Over the course of two hours, he reimagines the story of the Iliad, updating and bringing it into a more modern world that includes baseball. Although free, tickets have to be reserved in advance, and masks have to be worn during the performances.
A new oratorio called Naia: The Spirit of Hoyo Negro is being premiered this week, by the Los Angeles Master Chorale. It’s part of the tenth year of their Oratorio Project; they worked for 20 weeks with approximately 80 students from Van Nuys High School as the students wrote the libretto, and then the melodic lines. The subject is about an actual archeological find from an underwater cave near the Yucatan peninsula. The skeleton of a prehistoric teenager, who’s come to be known as Naia, was found there, undisturbed, after 13,000 years. Because she apparently was traveling alone, her story resonated with the students who have been dealing with their own isolation during the pandemic. The oratorio is being released over the course of this week, with the full performance to be premiered on Friday.
A work inspired by poetry… this Saturday evening, in the first of a series of concert films called “Poetry in Motion,” California Symphony will present the premiere of a piece by their latest Young American Composer in residence, Viet Cuong. It’s called Next Week’s Trees, inspired by Mary Oliver’s poem “Walking to Oak-Head Pond, and Thinking of the Ponds I Will Visit in the Next Days and Weeks.” This is the first work that Cuong has written for the ensemble; the launch of his three-year residency was in the midst of last year’s closures. He says that the piece is an appropriate reflection of our times: “a gentle reminder of the uncertainty of the future, the confident hope of the present, and the propulsive force of life that drives us through any doubt that a new day will arrive.”
The Soraya has announced that their next artist-in-residence is Étienne Gara, the artistic director and founder of Delirium Musicum. Serving as a bit of a virtual introduction to the violinist, starting this Thursday, will be a series of short films that he made with fellow violinist and Delirium’s management director, YuEun Gemma Kim. When venues closed and gigs cancelled last year, they got in a 1971 Volkswagen Westfalia bus, and toured California in what they called MusiKaravan. They played for farm workers, winemakers, and whoever happened to be within earshot (including some ostriches.) Episodes filmed in different locations around the state will be released on Thursdays through the summer. It’s a two year residency, so there will be opportunities for live performances in the future.
One of the dangers of being in a small ensemble is that the effect of any personnel change is bound to be significant, and especially amplified. Last year, amid the pandemic, the Horszowski Trio’s founding cellist made the decision to leave the group, and so violinist Jesse Mills and pianist Rieko Aizawa (who are married) have a new partner, their longtime friend cellist Ole Akahoshi, who teaches at the Yale School of Music. Music at Kohl Mansion will be presenting a virtual performance by the newly reconstituted trio this Sunday evening, with a repeat the following Thursday. On the program will be music by Sibelius and Schubert.
For their past few Symphony Thursdays @ 7pm concerts, the Pacific Symphony has been focusing on works by J.S. Bach – the most recent, this past Thursday, was the second Brandenburg Concerto, but there have also been programs featuring the Keyboard Concerto No. 1 with pianist Claire Huangci, and the Concerto for Violin and Oboe with Dennis Kim and Ted Sugata. Carl St. Clair leads the musicians in these performances (along with some ‘from the vault’) each week, recorded in Segerstrom Concert Hall. This upcoming Thursday evening, Anne Akiko Meyers joins them for The Lark Ascending by Ralph Vaughan Williams.
Antonin Dvorak was fascinated by the music he encountered when he came to America in the 1890s, leading up to the premiere of his “New World” Symphony with the New York Philharmonic. And when he spent time in Spillville, Iowa in the summer of 1893, he had a chance to hear not only spirituals, but also music of the Iroquois people who lived nearby. Those influences show up in his 9th symphony, as well as two of his chamber works that are nicknamed “American” – a quartet and quintet. Tomorrow night, the Gold Coast Chamber Players in Lafayette will be presenting a virtual concert with both those pieces (played by the Alexander String Quartet, and violist and GCCP Artistic Director, Pamela Freund-Striplen). And they’ll be joined by soprano Michele Kennedy and Mary Youngblood, who plays the Native American flute. There’s also a pre-concert talk by musicologist Kai Christiansen.
The latest digital short that LA Opera is premiering today is called let me come in – it was written for soprano Angel Blue by composer David Lang, with accompaniment by viola, cello, and percussion. The text is from the biblical Song of Songs, specifically a moment as a woman “awaits the knock of her lover on her door.” The images for the short are from an obscure 1928 German film called Pawns of Passion. The director of let me come in is Bill Morrison, who has a track record with repurposing old film. His 2002 film Decasia edited together old silver nitrate reels of film in various states of disrepair – that filmstock itself becomes so unstable and combustible as it ages, each frame needs to be scanned individually, because it’s dangerous to run it through a projector. The Pawns of Passion footage, out of context from its original film, takes on new meaning with the music that’s been written for it.
April 29th is International Dance Day, and it’s also almost the conclusion of Films.Dance, a festival of 15 short dance films that they’ve been releasing, one a week, since the end of January. It’s a production of the LA-based Jacob Jonas The Company, and involves more than 150 artists from 25 countries. The most recent film to be released is “Plume,” with 21 acrobats leaping, rolling, and being captured in mid-flight. The cinematography, editing, as well as animated elements combine to create a performance that would be impossible to witness in real life. For the soundtrack, violinist Hilary Hahn plays an evocative solo score by Gaelynn Lea, who won NPR’s ‘Tiny Desk Concert’ several years ago. Films.Dance is a co-presentation of the Soraya and the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, with Chicago’s Harris Theater.
The Pivot series of adventurous musical programming was launched by San Francisco Performances five years ago this spring, with an unexpected bit of programming from the Jack Quartet – they played the third string quartet of Georg Friedrich Haas, which is to be performed in the dark. They were positioned throughout the Strand Theater, surrounding the audience, and played the work from memory. This year’s virtual Pivot series has the quartet returning, with pianist and composer Conrad Tao, in a program that was developed when the quartet was in a ‘digital residency’ at the Library of Congress. That concert premieres tomorrow, joining the other free offerings of the series: the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain, and versatile singer Theo Bleckmann, whose program is called “Songs for Voice, Loops, and Toys.”
“The Way Forward” is a film that brings together alumni, students, artists-in-residence of the Colburn School and Conservatory for a concert that spans the globe. It was meant to redefine how we experience concerts in our current era: filmed remotely all over the world – with Esa-Pekka Salonen giving a downbeat next to the Baltic Sea in Finland, which cues brass and percussion players in Zipper Hall… There are guest artists like pianist Danielle de Niese singing Handel, and Jean-Yves Thibaudet accompanying a Fauré work for cello. The Calidore String Quartet plays a movement of Mendelssohn’s Octet with a Conservatory ensemble in residence. The grand finale, though, is Eric Whitacre’s “Virtual Choir 6: Sing Gently” which the Colburn School helped produce, with 17,572 singers from 129 countries. The film “The Way Forward” premieres tomorrow at noon on the Colburn website, and there’s an in-person screening at Zipper Hall on the evening of May 1st.
The San Francisco Symphony has announced that there will be live performances in Davies Symphony Hall, beginning with a pair of free concerts especially for medical workers, first responders, community partners, and members of the arts community. Those concerts will take place on May 6 and 7, conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen. Then there will be seven concert programs on Thursdays and Fridays through May and June, led by guest conductors Jeremy Denk, James Gaffigan, Ken-David Masur, Joseph Young, Joshua Weilerstein, with Salonen returning for the final two in June. Tickets for the general public will go on sale on May 6th, and there will be a reduced audience size, with assigned seating to maximize physical distancing. The concerts will be about 75 minutes with no intermission, and the programming reflects the orchestration and size of the ensemble that’s safest for the audience and players. In announcing the performances, Esa-Pekka Salonen said: “We go into these concerts having worked as a unit to bring music into your homes in unique and meaningful ways this year. We now welcome audiences into our home—something we didn’t realize we had taken for granted. Let’s get started, together.”
A flute that had been missing for nine years has finally gotten back to its owner. The instrument was left in a cab in Boston by Heidi Slyker at the end of a long day, and it couldn’t have happened at a worse time. She was going to have her first rehearsal the next day with the New England Symphony, where she’d just gotten a position. The silver flute, made by Brannen Brothers had cost about 10-thousand dollars then, and about 13-thousand now, with special modifications and engraving. She tried to track down the instrument through the cab company, but had no luck, and after filing a police report, spent years looking at eBay and pawn shops hoping to find it. When someone came into a music store looking for an appraisal for a flute, it turned out to be the cabbie from nine years earlier. Photos and the serial number eventually led the music store back to Heidi Slyker, who’s been reunited with the instrument.
There are more than two dozen young classical musicians from California who will be taking part in this summer’s National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America. The Carnegie Hall program brings together more than 200 of the best players from across the country. Because of Covid, they won’t be able to have a concert at Carnegie Hall (it’s closed until the fall), or go on tour after their month-long residency at the State University of New York at Purchase, as in previous years. But they will be able to gather and play in person – which they couldn’t last year at all – and have lessons, masterclasses, mentoring from faculty, and concerts. 41 states are represented in the ensembles this year – the NYO, NYO2 (the group for slightly younger players) and the NYO Jazz ensemble, which includes another 6 players from California. Here’s one of the virtual performances from last year’s session:
Mission: Commission is a podcast that goes inside the process of three composers as they write a work that’s been specifically commissioned for this project. It’s produced by Miller Theatre, which is part of the Columbia University School of the Arts. The composers, Courtney Bryan, Augusta Read Thomas, and Marcos Balter, have just six weeks to complete the piece. Through interviews, discussions with collaborators, and voice memo diary entries, they take the listener through the experience of false starts and sudden discoveries. The aim is to “demystify” how classical music gets made, and the final result will be a duet for trombone and piano, and solo pieces for percussion and harp.
Francesco Lecce-Chong leads the Santa Rosa Symphony in a live-streamed concert this Sunday afternoon, with a program that includes romancing, dancing, and serenading. It’s got works by two Pulitzer Prize-winning composers, Caroline Shaw, and the SRS’s Artistic Partner this season, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich. It will open with Shaw’s Entr’acte for String Orchestra, followed by Zwilich’s Romance for Violin and Orchestra, featuring concertmaster Joseph Edelberg. Then there’s a Danzon by Arturo Marquez (although it might not be the one you’re thinking of), ending with Tchaikovsky’s Serenade in C Major for string orchestra. Subscribers will be able to watch the concert beyond its premiere date, but this season the Santa Rosa Symphony is making the livestream of the concerts available to be watched for free by all.
In this Friday’s “Close Quarters” virtual performance, the music for members of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra has been selected by composer Jessie Montgomery. It’s the first of two concerts that she’ll curate, and she’s chosen works by three other composers: Alyssa Weinberg, Anna Meredith, and Marcos Balter. The program is called Sonic Shift, and will have visuals augmented by animator Will Kim. Several of the pieces use the string quartet plus another instrument. Weinberg’s Still Life adds a clarinet, Meredith will have Two Movements for Trumpet and Quartet as well as Tuggemo, which is for quartet and electronics. The final work, Bladed Stance by Balter, is for flute, clarinet, trumpet, violin, viola, and cello. Jessie Montgomery’s own music has been appearing on concert programs more and more frequently in the past several years, with commissions from organizations such as Carnegie Hall, Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, and the New World Symphony.
A video primer for kids about how to be a composer… and the quick answer is that they can already be one. Danny Clay leads the four-part series called The Composer’s Playbook with the help of two young friends, as well as ensembles like the Friction and Kronos Quartets, Delphi Trio, the choir Volti, and musicians from the MyCincinnati Youth Orchestra. It’s presented on the Noe Music website, as part of their Noe Music Kids program. Topics include finding sounds (described as musical puzzle pieces) and figuring out how to notate your compositions so that it can be played again. And all explained through demonstrations, animations, and musical examples. The videos are about a half hour long, with three of the four posted so far. While it’s specifically geared toward kids ages 6-10, they’re for “curious minds of all ages.”
It’s a concert of collaboration for One Found Sound’s next performance, Thursday evening. There will be performance videos of ‘virtual side by side’ pieces with students from Oakland’s Edna Brewer Middle School, as well as students from the El Sistema-inspired Enriching Lives Through Music program, based in San Rafael. They’ll also have live pairings of solo performers from One Found Sound with poets, for a collaboration that will mix violin, viola, oboe and cello with the spoken word. Poets Kar Johnson, Thea Matthews, Christine No and Preeti Vangani will read new works in the performance which begins at 6 pm.
Pacific Opera Project returns to live in-person performance this weekend, revisiting the very first production they staged in 2011, Leonard Bernstein’s Trouble in Tahiti. When the performance restrictions were lifted in LA county, Artistic Director and company founder Josh Shaw began the search for where the performances would be able to be staged. The venue will be the Heritage Square Museum lawn, with audience members spaced apart, and in pods of five people maximum. Section One will have seats (which are in pairs), and others should plan on bringing chairs or blankets. The small cast of five singers, the jazz trio “orchestra,” and its running time of less than an hour helps to make it a safer choice. The opera follows a day in the life of a young couple, Sam and Dinah, who live in suburbia, with a less than idyllic marriage.
San Francisco Opera is going to be presenting its first drive-in production this Friday, of Rossini’s Barber of Seville – a reworking of the opera that’s trimmed to about 90 minutes, so it can have no intermission. There will be a total of eleven performances through May 15th at the Marin Center in San Rafael, with audiences at the fairground, and simulcast viewing at Lagoon Park. This is a new sort of presentation for the company, which has been livestreaming archival works (including, recently, their Ring Cycle from a few seasons ago) and offering other virtual programs. Lucas Meachem will be singing the role of Figaro in the production, which is sung in English, and Roderick Cox will be conducting the San Francisco Opera Orchestra. SFO will also be presenting three concerts by the Adler fellows at the same venue on April 29th, May 6th, and May 13th.
Every year for more than three decades, LA Master Chorale has held a High School Choir Festival – and this Friday morning, they’ll release a virtual Festival Day video that will include three new performances, as well as highlights from past years. 26 school choirs will be represented in the video, with hundreds of students, which include an arrangement of Pharrell Williams’ song “Happy,” the piece “Es Tu Tiempo” by Francisco Nuñez (the founder of the Young People’s Chorus of New York City), and “Resilience” by Abby Betinis. Those last two works have special resonance – the Nuñez was premiered at this festival 7 years ago, and the singers have been forced by circumstances to show resilience in the face of a difficult year. Artistic Director Grant Gershon describes the festival as “a celebration of singing as a community,” even when that’s not possible to do in person. Here’s a glimpse of a Festival when it was able to held at Walt Disney Concert Hall:
It seems hard to believe, but there are plenty of California Summer Music Festivals making plans to return (slowly and carefully) this season. They’re subject to change, given all of the variables involved, but here’s a quick snapshot of the way some of them stand now.
- Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara will be having guest artists including cellist Steven Isserlis, composer and percussionist Tyshawn Sorey, and pianist Conrad Tao – Michael Tilson Thomas will also be a guest conductor. (June 28-Aug 7)
- Music@Menlo announced its season, called “Gather,” with nine live-streamed concert performances over three weekends, and they hope to be able to have in-person, reduced capacity and distanced audiences at the Spieker Center for the Arts, as well as the Menlo School campus lawn. (July 16-Aug 1)
- Sonoma’s Valley of the Moon Music Festival, with period instrument performances, have chosen the theme of “Love and Longing: Reaching Across the Distance.” They’ll have a series of virtual concerts, as well as a handful of in-person performances with limited seating which will also be livestreamed. (July 17-Aug 1)
- Festival Mozaic in San Luis Obispo plans an 8-day festival, with both indoor and outdoor venues. (July 24-31)
- La Jolla Music Society SummerFest in San Diego will have the theme of “Self and Sound,” with music that composers have infused with some of their own autobiographies, including premieres by Gabriela Lena Frank and Andrew Norman. (July 30-Aug 20)
- The Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music in Santa Cruz will be presenting its second virtual season, free to the public, over the July 31st and August 7th weekends.
- The Ojai Festival will be delaying its live in-person events until mid-September.
The 24 Preludes and Fugues of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, Book I explore all of the major and minor keys in turn – it’s a collection that every pianist is likely to have a relationship with, whether as pieces for practice, or competition, or recitals. Jeremy Denk had been in the midst of a long series of concerts playing the entire first book when the pandemic hit. The 300th anniversary of the collection is in 2022, and the concerts were by way of leading up to that celebration. He plays a Cal Performances At Home ticketed concert that premieres tonight, with a complete performance, and although he says “writing a program note for this landmark of music is like blurbing The Bible,” talented writer that he is, in his notes he says: “Its declared purpose was to be a helpful collection of teaching pieces. I’d argue it’s the most generous, rhapsodic, genial, heartbreaking set of lessons ever created.”
Scoring ‘Indiana’ over four decades… The fifth (so-far unnamed) and reportedly the final installment in the Indiana Jones saga will star Harrison Ford and Phoebe Waller-Bridge, and will have an original score by John Williams. The composer, who’s now 89, scored each of the previous films: Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), …Temple of Doom (1984), … Last Crusade (1989), and 13 years ago, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008.) The new movie, which is going to be released in the Summer of 2022, will be directed by James Mangold, who directed Ford v Ferrari and Logan. The original March from Raiders of the Lost Ark is one of the most recognizable and played of his themes, although it lost its chance at an Oscar to Vangelis’s score for Chariots of Fire.
Love & Secrets: A Domestic Trilogy is Opera San Jose’s exploration of romance in a time when new strains have been put on many relationships. It’s a performance of three short operas with love at their core. Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari’s early 20th Century comedy of errors Il segreto di Susanna (Susanna’s Secret) about suspected infidelity that’s actually something entirely other. Ned Rorem’s Four Dialogues follows a couple from their chance meeting through breakup in four episodes with words by American poet Frank O’Hara. And they’ll end with The Husbands by Tom Cipullo, from 1993, based on text by poet William Carpenter, which “summons visions of seasons long past in a stunning rumination on widows, tenderly keeping their departed spouses forever present in their hearts.” The performances were recorded in OSJ’s new multimedia studio, and for the first time since the pandemic, singers will be accompanied by members of the Opera San Jose Orchestra.
The Santa Barbara Symphony celebrates the common man… and woman, in a ticketed concert they’ll be streaming this Saturday at 7pm. It’s an all-American program, with Aaron Copland’s famed fanfare, as well as Joan Tower’s response, Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman. The string section is spotlighted in works by George Walker, and late Santa Barbara composer Robin Frost, and the woodwinds in music by Samuel Barber for wind quintet. They’ll be led by Music and Artistic Director Nir Kabaretti, and joined by bass-baritone Cedric Berry for a selection of Old American Songs by Copland, and the world premiere of the orchestral version of a very new piece from a song cycle by LA-based composer George N. Gianopoulos.
Indre Viskontas brings together the world of neuroscience and music, teaching both at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and the University of San Francisco. She has the added advantage of not just studying how the brain uses and recognizes music, she’s also a soprano who’s been on the other side of the footlights. She’s written a book called “How Music Can Make You Better,” and tonight will be the guest on a free virtual “Behind the Book” event through CaltechLive!, speaking about the book and being interviewed by Caltech’s director of chamber music, Maia Jasper White. Here’s a TEDx talk she gave a few years ago at Herbst Theatre:
The return of a summer tradition: Hollywood Bowl has announced it’s going to be offering a 2021 Summer Season, which will include four free concerts for those who have been on the frontlines of the pandemic: healthcare and essential workers, and first responders. The full details will be announced on May 11, but Gustavo Dudamel and the LA Phil will play the first two free concerts on the 15th and 22nd of May, and there’s a Fourth of July Fireworks Spectacular planned. They’ll be capping audience capacity at about 4,000, with the hope that that can increase when it’s safe to do so. And other safety protocols will include distancing, mask policy, and contactless ticketing. There will be a 14-week season for the Bowl, and a 15-week season for The Ford, which will begin in late July.
They’re calling it A Celebration of Musicians Around the Bay, and tomorrow night, four groups will take part in a virtual showcase, hosted by the Bay Area Music Consortium. That’s an umbrella group formed by Berkeley Chamber Performances, Gold Coast Chamber Players from Lafayette, Mill Valley Chamber Music Society, and San Francisco’s Noe Music. They joined forces a few years ago to be able to be more effective in drawing performers while keeping costs low. The ensembles on tomorrow night’s program are the Friction Quartet, Quinteto Latino, Indian music virtuoso Alam Khan, and the four members of the Breshears family who make up the Stars Aligned Siblings quartet (who range in age from 8 to 14). For a young ensemble, they’ve already toured extensively, won competitions, and appeared on such shows as “From the Top.”
A 5-million dollar gift to the Los Angeles Opera from Terri and Jerry Kohl will fund a summer outdoor production of Stravinsky’s Oedipus Rex, the first live, in-person staging the company will have mounted since March of last year. It’s the largest contribution during the COVID-19 era, and one of the largest ever in the history of the Opera. The Kohls will also be funding a challenge grant to support the company’s endowment, which will benefit the orchestra’s core group of musicians, making them sole underwriters for the LA Opera Orchestra. This windfall comes after 13 months of dark stages, and the company hopes and expects to be able to return to performances at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in September.
Yo-Yo Ma, in addition to playing performances for decades, has been acting as a cultural ambassador, and interacting with artists and people all around the world. He chronicles some of his experiences in a new release through Audible called Beginner’s Mind. The title refers to the importance of having an open mind if one wants to learn. He shares stories about reaching across borders, and the need for empathy in doing so. It’s part of their “Words + Music” series, and will also include some musical performances too. There are several other artists in the series who are best known for pop music, like Sheryl Crow, James Taylor, and Sting, but pianist Jonathan Biss has also released Unquiet: My Life with Beethoven. It’s part of the Audible Plus catalog, but Beginner’s Mind will be offered to listeners in the U.S. free of charge.
As the Adler Fellows at San Francisco Opera prepare for their “drive-in” concerts that take place at the end of the month and early in May, they’ve got a bit of equipment helping them in their rehearsals. It’s a hardware and software combo, “Aloha By Elk.” (The company Elk is based in Sweden.) It minimizes the inherent lag that you get using a regular video chat or conferencing application, to the point where it’s unable to be perceived by the users. That allows singers and pianists to work together at a distance, and still be in sync. The device is pocket-sized, and the Opera is helping beta-test the system, which will be able to take advantage of 5G as it’s rolled out (currently there needs to be a direct wired connection). The name of the app was inspired by Elvis’s 1973 concert, “Aloha From Hawaii,” which was broadcast internationally using then state-of-the-art satellite technology.
A wedding present serves as a centerpiece for a recital by flutist Catherine Gregory and pianist David Kaplan, presented by the LA-based Kaleidoscope Chamber Orchestra. The piece that the composer Timo Andres gave them on the occasion of their marriage is called Steady Gaze, which Andres describes this way: “Steady Gaze is a catalog of hundreds of different ways – from offhand to effusive – of saying the same thing.” There are other duets by Amy Beach, William Grant Still, Prokofiev, and David Lang, as well as two solo works (one for each of them) by Debussy and Caroline Shaw. The flute solo Syrinx is introduced by Catherine Gregory with the mythological story of unrequited affection that inspired Debussy… and David Kaplan plays Shaw’s Gustave Le Gray, a work named for an early pioneer in French photography, which draws on quotations from a Chopin Mazurka. The concert was recorded in Santa Monica in February.
The latest edition of “Currents” from the San Francisco Symphony is called Thundersong, and is an introduction to some of the ways traditional American Indian music has influenced classical repertoire. Hosted by composer and pianist Jerod Impichchaachaaha’ Tate, who’s a member of the Chickasaw Nation, the works combine the spirit and storytelling tradition with instruments found in a symphony orchestra. The title work, by Tate, is a timpani solo, paying tribute to the Chickasaw lore that tells of ancestors residing in the clouds, arguing to make thunder. There are several movements from Louis Ballard’s Katcina Dances for cello and piano, and some historical context for the works. It’s part of the SFSymphony+ streaming subscription service, which includes “Soundbox” programs, as well as free digital concert events.
The very first time the Los Angeles Philharmonic played at the Hollywood Bowl was on Easter Sunday of 1921. They celebrated that centennial anniversary by releasing a new episode of their Sound/Stage series, called “Easter Sunrise at the Hollywood Bowl.” Gustavo Dudamel and members of the orchestra are joined by soprano Nadine Sierra, who sings Mozart’s Exultate Jubilate, and the sister duo of gospel singers who perform as “Mary Mary.” They close the performance off with a hymn that was part of the original concert a hundred years ago.
As the father of the string quartet as a form, Haydn is naturally very special to the ensembles that continue to play them. The St. Lawrence String Quartet is no exception, and wanted to make some of their favorite works of Haydn available to audience members who wouldn’t be able to see them live in concert as performing venues were closed. Last summer they made available for free on their website a recording of his Opus 20 quartets, recorded in an empty Bing Concert Hall. And this Friday afternoon, they’ll begin a series of six concerts playing the Opus 76 quartets. They’ll stream first from the Bing, and then over the course of several Friday afternoons from other Stanford locations, where they’ve long been in residence. The final concert will be streamed on May 28th from Charleston, South Carolina, where Geoff Nuttall directs the chamber music program at the summer Spoleto Festival.
The Verdi Chorus is presenting their second virtual concert featuring the Fox Singers this Sunday night, kicking off their 38th season with “Amore della Vita”… Love of Life. The Fox Singers is the smaller professional ensemble from within the Chorus, and six of them and their accompanist will appear in the program that’s viewable on the Verdi Chorus website from April 11th through the 25th. The repertoire will be Neapolitan and Italian songs (earlier in the pandemic, they presented Amor y Odio, Songs of Spain and the New World). The repertoire that artistic director Anne Marie Ketchum and the full ensemble have made their mainstay are the choruses from grand operas, as here, in “Va Pensiero” from Verdi’s Nabucco.
For their “Symphony Thursdays” video this week, pianist Olga Kern is featured in a concert performance led by Carl St. Clair that opened the Pacific Symphony’s season in 2016. She’s playing Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, an audience favorite which she loves in part because of a family connection. Her great-great grandmother was a mezzo-soprano who not only sang Rachmaninoff’s music, but was accompanied by the composer in concert. Kern played his Piano Concerto No. 3 when she shared the gold medal at the 2001 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. Her son Vladislav Kern accompanied her to the Bay Area last year just before the shutdown, and played in recitals with her through Chamber Music San Francisco.
The first of a series of video concerts by members of Berkeley Symphony is called “REAL Berkeley: Rad Women.” The word REAL in the name actually stands for “Rad, Edgy, Audacious, and Loving.” It’s introduced by author Kate Schatz, who wrote Rad American Women A-Z. It begins with a chamber work called Tessellations by Bay Area native Gabriella Smith, followed by a movement from a piano trio by Clara Schumann. The final piece is by Los Angeles-based composer Reena Esmail, called Meri Sakhi Ki Avaaz (My Sister’s Voice). It takes as its starting point the Flower Duet from Delibes’ opera Lakme, which as Esmail points out, is supposed to be two Indian women singing together by a river. In her piece, two South Asian women with different specialties sing together: one with the language of traditional classical Indian music, and the other, in a western operatic tradition. Esmail describes the piece as “bringing different strands into dialogue with one another.”
Among the many sketches that Mozart left uncompleted when he died, were four violin sonatas. To the casual listener, they just sound like Mozart. But to a musicologist like Timothy Jones, it was a challenge that he set for himself – to complete them in the style that Mozart would have. He tried to determine exactly when they were written, so he could know their context: what other pieces were written at the same time, and where along Mozart’s growth and path as a composer did they fall? The “Violin Sonatas Fragment Completions” have just been released on a new recording with violinist Rachel Podger (who had already recorded all of the sonatas that Mozart himself finished) and Christopher Glynn on fortepiano. Showing that Mozart could have gone any number of directions, Timothy Jones wrote a couple of different endings to several of them, which appear on the new recording beginning the same way, before they diverge.
For centuries, the parts of a violin have come from all over the world – there are certain types of wood that are frequently used that only grow in exotic locales. But a Santa Rosa-based luthier, Andrew Carruthers, is in the midst of a project he calls The Redwood Violin. He’s going about creating a violin using materials that all come from within 25 miles of his workshop. From the instrument’s top, made from a Redwood, to its back, made from Gravenstein Apple wood, plus all of the “tendon glue,” (from Sonoma county cows), varnish and turpentine, Carruthers is locally-sourcing the materials, and documenting the process. Ultimately, the finished instrument will be a reflection of the area, and he has plans for the instrument to play music composed locally, with local ensembles.
Brown Sounds is the latest digital short by the LA Opera, featuring mezzo-soprano Raehann Bryce-Davis (who recently appeared in their productions of Eurydice and Roberto Devereux). She’s singing a piece of music that was written for her when she was a graduate student. The text, a poem by Henry Dumas, had made such an impression upon her when she recited it for a Black History Month celebration, that she asked a friend, composer Ayanna Witter-Johnson to set it for a recital. She was joined onstage by a dancer from the Alvin Ailey American Dance Center when she gave its first performance eight years ago. The digital short has the same spare piano part, and a dancer, this time Lateef Williams, in a spacious greenhouse – big enough to fit trees – that is reminiscent of the Garden of Eden. Bryce-Davis describes the project as a “joyous celebration of Black art, Black bodies, and Black consciousness.”
“Double Bass Dimensions” takes a look at one of the lowest and biggest instruments of the orchestra, from the point of view of California Symphony Principal Double Bassist Andy Butler. In the four-part series of videos, he’ll explain a little bit about his instrument, the repertoire that is associated with it, and then play a work that is usually performed by other, higher instruments. The first was Saint-Saens’ “The Swan” from Carnival of the Animals, which is a mainstay for cello; then it was Bach’s “Air on the G String,” generally a showstopper for the violin. Butler began playing with the ensemble in 1992, as a substitute, and has been Principal since 2007, as well as playing with half a dozen other orchestras in the Bay Area.
In a sign that it’s looking forward to the eventual return of live shows in its venues, Los Angeles’s The Music Center has announced that it’s the first performing arts organization to earn the “UL Verified Healthy Buildings Mark” for indoor air quality. Among the modifications that led to the rating, they’ve made upgrades to heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems in their four venues: Walt Disney Concert Hall, Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Mark Taper Forum, and the Ahmanson Theatre. (They’ve also upgraded their administrative buildings.) The air in the spaces will be filtered and circulated every ten or fifteen minutes, and they’ve made several additional changes, including an enhanced cleaning program, contactless environments and procedures, added hand sanitizer dispensers and signage to enforce social distancing and mask wearing guidelines. They’re also subject to continued inspections to ensure that they remain in compliance with the UL verification standards.
The love that grows over the course of the opera Pepito is between an older rescue dog in a shelter, and his new adoptive family. The LA-based New Opera West has released an animated video of the scene in which they meet. The full work is a comedic one-act by composer Nicolas Lell Benavides and librettist Marella Martin Koch – commissioned originally by Washington National Opera, and performed at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC during the 2018/19 season. This adaptation is co-produced with San Francisco’s Muttville Senior Dog Rescue; Emily Thebaut, co-founder of NOW, had originally hoped to have a performance of the work at a concert where pets would be welcome, to be followed by animal adoptions, but COVID prevented that. One of the aims of New Opera West is to expand opera audiences by working with other art forms, and Thebaut had wanted to explore animation before circumstances made it necessary.
At the beginning of the pandemic, L.A.-based composer Richard Danielpour was told by his doctor that his asthma put him into the higher-risk category, and that he should keep entirely at home. He spent the early days with frequent insomnia, finding himself waking up at 2 a.m. each night. He did write the libretto to an opera during those night hours, but he really needed to be able to sleep. He began listening to the recordings of Simone Dinnerstein, and found they were able to help him calm down and finally get rest. He had already begun thinking of a work he wanted to write – an hour-long solo piece of gratitude for the heroes of the pandemic: nurses, doctors, first responders, teachers, scientists, as well as those who didn’t survive. Oregon Bach Festival had earlier commissioned his The Passion of Yeshua, and when he was talking with them about this new project, they suggested Dinnerstein as a perfect match. The result is An American Mosaic, a recording of which (recorded at her Brooklyn home) is being released this week.
A nostalgic musical tour around some of San Francisco’s landmark locations… Quartet San Francisco’s latest video is called Ives Been Thinking About You. That’s not a typo, since embedded in the piece is a tribute to Charles Ives, who used to layer tunes from his childhood amid complicated harmonies. Violinist and quartet founder Jeremy Cohen wrote the piece, which is described as a “Barbary Coast Bluegrass Blowout.” And the video, with the quartet’s members at such iconic locations as the Golden Gate Bridge, Coit Tower, the Ferry Building, the Painted Ladies houses and a Redwood grove, is intercut with archival footage from the same sites. It was produced by the non-profit Music in Place, which early on in the pandemic stepped up to help musicians who were unable to perform get their music to a wider digital audience.
Violinist Gil Shaham joins the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra Friday evening (for his debut performance with them) on their next “Close Quarters” performance. The audience will have a different point of view this time around, because the cinematographer will be filming from amid the players, giving a musicians’-eye view of the concert. There are two works on the program, Arvo Pärt’s Fratres, as well as a violin concerto by Joseph Boulogne, the Chevalier de Saint-Georges. The free concert premieres Friday at 6:30 on their website and YouTube channel, and there’s a Zoom conversation with Shaham an hour earlier (requiring an RSVP).
To launch their “Close-Up” online recital series, Opera Parallèle is presenting “Celebrating the Spring Equinox” – the first of four programs that coincide with Spring celebrations (there’s also Earth Day, Mother’s Day, and Father’s Day ahead.) The inaugural recital has soprano Shawnette Sulker, with pianist Zachary Gordin this Thursday at 5pm. The performances are free, and as they say, “with a spirit of new and light,” to allow the company to show off some of the talented performers they’ve worked with in their stage productions. The next full work that Opera Parallèle has planned is a “graphic novel opera” called Everest, about the 1996 disaster. It’s by composer Joby Talbot and librettist Gene Scheer, and illustrated by Mark Simmons.
The Ojai Music Festival has decided to delay its season from the traditional June to September, in the hope and expectation that it will allow their 75th Festival to take place in person. There will still be an online buildup to the celebration over the summer, as well as events in other locations in anticipation of the season. Music Director John Adams has a lineup of composers and performers who will continue the “Ojai spirit” of adventure and exploration in music. There will be the premiere of a work by Dylan Mattingly, Sunt Lacrimae Rerum (These Are the Tears of Things) played by members of the LA Phil New Music Group. Samuel Carl Adams will have the West Coast premiere of his Chamber Concerto, and Rhiannon Giddons will collaborate with the Attacca Quartet, as well as solo in music by John Adams. Timo Andres will perform the 11-work collection for piano by a who’s who of composers called I Still Play, and there will be educational outreach through the BRAVO program, including a free community concert.
On Wednesday, two milestones will be celebrated in Monterey: exactly 300 years ago, J.S. Bach presented the six Brandenburg Concertos to Christian Ludwig, Margrave of Brandenburg-Schwedt. As a job application, it’s pretty much unrivaled in history. But there’s at least one other bragging right Bach would be able to claim. When NASA was sending the Voyager spacecraft out to explore the unknown in 1977, they included onboard the “Golden Record” and player, which could carry information about the Earth and its culture to the far reaches of space. The very first track on that album was the Brandenburg Concerto No. 2, and Voyager 1 is currently the farthest man-made object from Earth. In celebration of both the birthday and the inclusion on Voyager, there will be an afternoon and evening livestream with music, art, photography, and a panel discussion about the concertos’ significance. Since the Carmel Bach Festival and the Monterey Jazz Festival have taken place in the region for decades, the music will be both traditional performances as well as jazz reimaginings.
A musical collaboration to help new and expectant mothers experiencing homelessness… “The Lullaby Project” began at Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute about ten years ago, and has since appeared in communities across the country. The Bay Area’s program, at Noe Music, began just this January, and has already gone through its first cycle. It pairs the new, or soon-to-be mothers with songwriters who work with them to tailor make a lullaby for their child. The goals, they say, are supporting maternal health, helping in childhood development, and strengthening the bond between parent and child. It’s working with San Francisco’s Homeless Prenatal Program, which has more than 30 years of experience helping mothers deal with the demands of having children under difficult circumstances. Here’s an example of one of the finished lullabies:
Available for live chatting while it’s underway, members of the chamber music ensemble One Found Sound present a listening party tonight, with three music videos of contemporary works in live performance. The program, called “Ocean,” features pieces by composers 40 and under: Kevin Day, Angélica Negrón, and Ivan Trevino. And there’s a watery theme that runs throughout their season – after “Ocean” there will be events called “Spring” and “River.” The concert will open with Kevin Day’s The Mind is Like Water for violin and percussion, followed by Negrón’s Marejada for string quartet (the word for surge, or tidal wave). Ivan Trevino, who’s a percussionist, wrote Song Book Vol. 3 for wind quintet and percussion. There’s an original performance by choreographer and dancer Babatunji Johnson, and there are also conversations with two of the composers. The comfortable and relaxed atmosphere that One Found Sound has always maintained for their live concerts extends into the virtual concert world, as chatting with performers during the performance is encouraged. The premiere streams live at 6pm.
A new “re-granting” initiative from YOLA (Youth Orchestra Los Angeles) and the LA Philharmonic will fund a half-million dollars of music education programs across the country during its first grant cycle. It’s called Partners in Music Learning, and the goal is to both support existing organizations that teach and mentor young people in music, and also create a network that teachers can use to share best practices and collaborate with each other. The first year they’re targeting specific underserved areas of the country, including Southern California and some of the Southwestern states, along with the Pacific Northwest, Alaska, the Plains and Midwest. How much funding the organizations receive is based on their budget, goals and needs. The application deadline for “Partners in Music Learning” grants is the end of April.
It might sound like a contradiction for an early music orchestra, but after several successful collaborations with other contemporary composers in the past few years, Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and Chorale has named Tarik O’Regan as its first official Composer in Residence. Over the course of three and a half years, he’ll write three major works for the ensemble: a concerto for the oud (a middle eastern traditional lute), an operatic production, and a new piece for the Philharmonia Chorale. He’s also going to be commissioning ten to twenty short pieces for the ensemble from others, and hopes to launch a composition contest as well. The aim, according to O’Regan and Music Director Richard Egarr, is to make their repertoire a continuum of music that runs fluidly from old to new. Egarr says that new music should be “an extension of what all the old music has taught us.”
A ballet based on a cult classic film about love and obsession, which in turn was inspired by a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale… Choreographer Matthew Bourne, perhaps best known for his male-centered retelling of Swan Lake, made a ballet of The Red Shoes in 2016, and a performance was filmed live in 2019 at London’s Sadler’s Wells Theatre. There will be five streaming performances this Friday through Sunday through Center Theatre Group’s Digital Stage. Although there’s an extended dance sequence in the film that’s fully accompanied, and composer Brian Easdale won the Academy Award for his score, there wasn’t enough music to make a full ballet – so the score is an adaptation of a few early film scores by Bernard Herrmann, before he began to team with director Alfred Hitchcock.
Tonight Zuill Bailey will be giving a masterclass for two young cellists from the Santa Rosa Symphony Youth Orchestra and Young People’s Chamber Orchestra. The class, presented by the Santa Rosa Symphony Institute for Music Education, will be free for audiences to watch as a Zoom webinar. He’s no stranger to teaching – in addition to his recordings and performance career, Bailey is a Professor of Cello at the University of Texas at El Paso. He’ll be joining the Santa Rosa Symphony for the concert that they’ll stream on March 28th, playing the Cello Concerto by Ellen Taaffe Zwilich that he premiered in March of 2020 with the South Florida Symphony Orchestra, just before concerts started to be cancelled.
After his second COVID vaccine injection over the weekend, Yo-Yo Ma spent the “observation” time giving an impromptu solo recital for the other people who had received their shots. It was at Berkshire Community College in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, near Tanglewood, and the concert lasted about 15 minutes, including Schubert’s “Ave Maria” and a bit from a Bach solo cello suite. He began the pandemic with a social media post of a similarly simple recording of himself playing Dvorak, with the hashtag “SongsOfComfort,” and played a series of pop-up concerts with Emanuel Ax for first responders.
A newly-designed mask is going to make the experience of rehearsals a lot more comfortable for San Francisco Opera singers. It was designed by a Professor of Surgery at UCSF Medical School, Sanziana Roman, (who also happens to be a singer), and then constructed by the SFO Costume shop. It’s got an interior supporting frame that keeps the cloth away from the mouth and nose, and allows singers to have free movement of their jaws – something traditional masks don’t do – as well as an accessible flap that lets singers drink water through a straw without taking the mask off. It’s all the more important because the CDC has singled out singing in indoor spaces as an activity that can increase the spread of COVID-19. Singers are projecting their voices – and aerosols – strongly, and inhaling more deeply than the average non-singer. When San Francisco Opera performs in The Barber of Seville in late April, it will be in a ‘drive-in’ outdoor performance.
The late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was, famously, an enormous fan of opera. So today, on what would have been her 88th birthday, there’s a concert planned that will include arias from some of her favorite operas, in a virtual event by the National Museum of American Jewish History, Opera Philadelphia, and the Lowell Milken Center for Music of American Jewish Experience at The UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music. The program, called “For the Love of Opera: Celebrating RBG’s 88th Birthday” will have both commentary and performances. Many of the arias feature strong, independent female characters, or people seeking justice and equality. The program streams at 5pm, and then will be available for on-demand viewing thereafter.
Pianist and actor Hershey Felder has created a dramatic history of music with performances that focus on the music and life of individual composers: Beethoven, Liszt, Debussy, Chopin, Leonard Bernstein and more. The latest addition to the genre is Hershey Felder, Puccini, which is going to have its world premiere this weekend, in a livestream from Florence. It’s presented through Opera San Jose and TheatreWorks Silicon Valley. Felder will play the role of the operatic composer, and will be joined by a quartet of opera singers: Nathan Gunn, Gianna Corbisiero, Charles Castronovo, and Ekaterina Siurina. There will be on-location footage from Lucca, where Puccini was born, as well as Pisa and Florence. Felder was given permission to film in locations that were important in the composer’s life, including the theater where he saw his first opera. And Felder plays the piano on which Puccini composed Turandot. The ticketed event is this Sunday at 5, with on-demand access for a week after.
The acoustics and space provided by the historic 16th Street Station in Oakland come together as dancers from Post:ballet perform to music played by the San Francisco Symphony’s Associate Principal Second Violin, Helen Kim. The performance of seven contemporary works (including several digital world premieres) is called “Playing Changes.” It’s described as “an exploration of collaborative art during a time marked by isolation and uncertainty, and a celebration of the resilience and creativity of the Bay Area artistic community. The composers include Philip Glass, Samuel Adams, Daniel Bernard Roumain and Mary Kouyoumdjian, and the choreography is by Robert Dekkers in collaboration with the dancers in his company.
Igor Stravinsky’s The Soldier’s Tale tells the story of a young man who makes a deal with the devil, and in the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra’s next “Close Quarters” presentation, they’ll be joined by members of L.A.’s Robey Theatre Company, including (as narrator) company co-founder Ben Guillory, and actors playing the soldier and the devil. It’s an economical orchestration, with only seven instruments, but chosen to be able to cover a wide range: violin and bass, clarinet and bassoon, trumpet and trombone, and timpani. An evocative work of conceptual art will provide some of the visuals for the performance. Wang Huimeng was inspired by the Stravinsky piece for “To Have Still the Things You Had Before.” She brought a baby grand piano to the desert, with a firearm specialist, shot 400 bullets into the instrument, then “fully dismantled, flocked, reassembled, and reinforced the piano.” The reconstructed instrument is coated with a delicate red velvety covering that contrasts with the violence of the bullet holes.
Jonathan Biss has spent almost 10 years concentrating on the music of Beethoven, recording the 32 piano sonatas, and until it was interrupted by Covid, he had planned on spending Beethoven’s 250th anniversary season last year playing nothing but sonata programs. He’s been obsessed by Beethoven much of his life, and actually released an audiobook through Audible late last year called Unquiet: My Life with Beethoven, centering on that obsession, and the relationship his anxiety has with the repertoire. Having all of the sonatas in his fingers at once is quite a feat, and in programs like this one, for San Francisco Performances’ “Front Row Premium” series, he provides a musical guide through Beethoven’s growth as a composer, with works from his early, middle, and late periods.
A year after their last live concerts, Carl St. Clair and the musicians of the Pacific Symphony have returned to Segerstrom Concert Hall for a series of Thursday evening concerts. (The free programs are available on demand for a month after they premiere.) For the first segment, members of the winds and strings sections played serenades by Richard Strauss and Tchaikovsky, with plexiglass separating the wind players, and masked string players spread the full space of the stage. In the second program, the spotlight was on the brass and percussion sections, with works by Morton Lauridsen and Michael Daugherty. The concerts will be running each week through April 8th, called “Symphony Thursdays @7,” as part of their Pacific Symphony+ offerings.
30 years ago, during another pandemic, a requiem by Kristopher Jon Anthony called When We No Longer Touch was dedicated to those lost to AIDS. It was commissioned by the Artistic Director of the Turtle Creek Chorale, Dr. Timothy Seelig, who is now the Artistic Director of the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus. A streaming concert this Thursday evening called “Angels” will feature the work, sung by the SFGMC in a 2018 concert at St. Ignatius Church in San Francisco. Seelig says, “Those of us now living through the second pandemic of our lives know on an even deeper level that we are surrounded by angels… This extraordinary work has proved itself to be timeless. Having been performed all over the world, it still brings a very personal message to each listener. All of us have experienced all of this in our lives. Yet, we can stand and sing or say as the music soars to its triumphant end, ‘Through all the tears, pain and sadness, comes the one thought that can make me smile again: I have loved.’” The concert will stream on their online platform SFGMC TV on Thursday at 6, as well as their Youtube and Facebook pages.
The new Artistic Director and Chief Creative Officer at Long Beach Opera is James Darrah, who has been very active with other Southern California arts groups during the pandemic – overseeing the visuals of LACO’s “Close Quarters” series, and working with LA Opera on their Digital Shorts series. His debut with LBO will be this May, in a drive-in staging of Philip Glass’s Les Enfants Terribles, based on the novel by Jean Cocteau. It’s an energetic “dance opera,” which he previously staged as part of Opera Omaha’s One Festival (where he’s also Artistic Director). When the new position was announced, Darrah said, “The future of opera is both cinematic and live. I’m excited to continue my exploration of operatic cinema with the amazing team at Long Beach Opera, creating diverse, robust streaming content while also building towards a safe return to live performances.”
A confluence of things French led to Hilary Hahn’s new album, fittingly called “Paris.” A few seasons ago, she was an artist-in-residence with the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, working with their conductor Mikko Franck. Even before the end of the residency, they began considering what pieces they might include on an album, if they were able to record one. Hahn says she’s always loved Prokofiev’s 1st Violin Concerto, saying even if she hadn’t played it in five years, she could perform it with a day’s notice. The piece was written in Paris when Prokofiev was working with the Ballet Russes, and combines the Russian soul with French ambience. When Ernest Chausson’s Poeme was first played in Paris, the soloist was Eugene Ysaye (whose pupil Jascha Brodsky was one of Hahn’s teachers). The violin she plays was made in Paris by Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume about 30 years before Chauson’s Poeme. The last work, “Two Serenades,” was written for her by Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara, just before his death. Hahn was unaware that he had been writing it; she had been hoping to commission a full concerto from the composer, but was told by Mikko Franck that he was in poor health. It wasn’t until after his death that his widow let them know of the score’s existence. You can hear the Rautavaara piece on tonight’s inaugural Lara Downes program.
The path that brought Cynthia Black of the American Bach Soloists to her chosen instrument of viola almost took a large brass detour… as an elementary school student starting orchestra, she was hoping to take up the tuba. And then, because her sister was already playing the violin, she opted for the viola. In this artist profile video, we find out a little about her background, and other interests, before she plays a transcription of a lute sonata by Sylvius Weiss. Playing with a special tuning that changes the sound of open strings and increases the possible range of the instrument, she says the viola “sings and resonates” in new ways.
Sound/Stage, the online video concert program of the LA Philharmonic, begins its second season today, with a presentation of Saint-Saens’ Carnival of the Animals. The piano soloists are Yuja Wang and David Fung, and Gustavo Dudamel is joined by his son Martín as co-host. The series includes musical guests like soprano Nadine Sierra, who will take part in a centennial anniversary of the first concert at the Hollywood Bowl in April; and John Adams, who will be in conversation with Dudamel alongside a performance of Grand Pianola Music. There’s a performance of Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony, and other guests like Carlos Vives, Common, and José Andrés. Their website will have additional videos, essays, and background materials, and from May into June there will be weekly chamber music performances that were recorded at The Ford and Walt Disney Concert Hall.
Lowry Yankwich has played classical piano from an early age, but there’s one piece in particular that he’s been focused on for the past several years, even though he’s not playing professionally. It’s Bach’s Goldberg Variations, the subject of a podcast that Yankwich is producing called “30 Bach.” The title comes from the 30 variations that are sandwiched between a theme called an Aria, and its repeat, which comes at the end of the work. He’s spoken with a wide variety of guests who have been similarly engrossed in the work, either as performers or listeners. Just in the first few episodes, there are artists as varied as Simone Dinnerstein (who funded her own recording of the piece, which launched her career) and Dan Tepfer, who created a set of jazzy variations on Bach’s variations. There are also interviews with people from very different professions – like architect, nanotechnologist, and software engineer – who use the Goldbergs to prepare themselves for, or to accompany their day.
The audience is virtual, but the members of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music Orchestra streamed a concert program this past weekend, led by conductor Michael Morgan. The masked players were spaced apart on the stage, and the number of players was reduced, especially in the winds and brass. But the program of works by Revueltas, Mozart, Adolphus Hailstork, and Ibert went on, and they were joined for Hailstork’s “Two Romances” by faculty violist Dimitri Murrath.
A short documentary that links a young composer’s love of music to his grandfather’s cross-country travels during the Jim Crow era has been shortlisted for an Academy Award. “A Concerto is a Conversation” tells of the world premiere of Kris Bowers’ violin concerto called “For a Younger Self,” which took place at Walt Disney Concert Hall at the end of January 2020. The composer, who has written the score for 2018’s Green Book and Netflix’s Bridgerton series, wanted to get to know more about the life of his 91-year-old grandfather, Horace Bowers, Sr. He built a career in the clothes cleaning business, after coming to Los Angeles to try to leave the racism he encountered in Florida behind him, and avoid the cold weather of Northern cities. It’s a loving tribute from a grandchild to the grandfather who enabled him to follow his dream.
Wotan, Siegfried, Brünnhilde, the Norns and the Rhine Maidens all return as San Francisco Opera begins a month-long Ring festival. Each weekend, they’ll be streaming the sold-out performances from the 2018 production for free, beginning this Saturday at 10am with Das Rheingold. On Friday, the Festival kicks off with the “Opening Salute” – a ticketed Zoom event with Director Francesca Zambello, conductor Donald Runnicles, and Greer Grimsley, who sang Wotan. Each week there are panel events with scholars, critics, and singers discussing the long and complicated history of the Ring. There have been seven cycles staged by San Francisco Opera, with the first in 1935, and five from 1972 to 2011. The spectacle of 16 or so hours of storytelling and music, with characters made up of powerful and vengeful gods makes for an unforgettable experience.
Longtime Los Angeles Philharmonic administrator Gail Samuel, has taken on many roles in her more than 25 years there, from being the Orchestra Manager to Executive Director; she’ll be heading east this Summer to lead the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Her most recent position in LA was as President of the Hollywood Bowl and Chief Operating Officer of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association. She’ll be the first woman to be President and CEO of the BSO in its 140-year history. And she’ll also oversee their performances at their summer home in Western Massachusetts, Tanglewood, as well as the Boston Pops. The new job begins in mid-June, around the time there’s a (currently) planned Tanglewood performance with Keith Lockhart and the Pops, rescheduled from last year.
Pianist Benjamin Grosvenor was just beginning a US and World Tour when the pandemic hit, forcing the cancellation of every remaining concert, beginning with an appearance in Santa Barbara. He says that it was such an upending of everything, he decided to do something he hadn’t done since he began playing piano… He took some time off, about a month and a half, the longest he’d ever been away from the keyboard. While in lockdown, once he returned to practicing and playing, he also “rediscovered the joys of simply sight-reading” random repertoire. Last September, when circumstances allowed, he was able to set up a chamber music festival where he lives in South East London, and have live performances with small audiences. He’s given some concerts – some with, and some without audiences. But he’s also just released a new album from Decca of music by Liszt, dedicated to his grandfather, who died at the beginning of last year, and was the source of all the music in the family. Grosvenor’s first teacher was his mother, but it was her father who introduced the young pianist to the music of Franz Liszt with “Liebestraum.” Here’s Grosvenor playing Liszt as part of the “Proms” in 2011.
It’s clear that in the world of Classical Music, women have historically been far less represented than men, but a British pianist and composer is claiming that she was able to conduct an experiment to show ingrained sexism. Annabel Bennett says she was being largely ignored when she’d sent her works to radio stations in the UK – until she began submitting them with the male pseudonym, “Arthur Parker,” and those works were accepted and played more frequently. The BBC denies the allegation, pointing out a number of local stations around the country had played her music under her own name, but Bennett kept up the false identity for several weeks, by communicating via email rather than telephone. Although the experiment will likely be skewed by the news coverage of her claims, she’ll have an opportunity to track the success of “Arthur Parker” soon, when she releases an album under that name later this month.
It’s a return to live performances from San Francisco Opera, gradually and carefully. They’ve announced there will be 11 “drive-in” performances of a new adaptation of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville in April and May. It will be without intermission, and sung in English, with performances at the Marin Center in San Rafael. There will also be three performances of “The Adlers: Live at the Drive-In,” a recital by the Adler Fellow resident artists, which will be held in the open-air. SF Opera also announced that they’ll be offering more digital content, with a series called “In Song” of 10-minute video profiles of six singers known to San Francisco audiences. The “Atrium Sessions” will have art songs and arias recorded in performance at the Atrium Theater. “North Stage Door” will be a new behind-the-scenes podcast. Also planned for the spring is a free stream of their 2018 sold-out production of Richard Wagner’s Ring Cycle.
A new “GPS-enabled work of public art” makes its debut in Los Angeles’ Griffith Park tomorrow, as Soundwalk becomes available. It’s a piece of music that you listen to through an app on your phone, and it changes from moment to moment… and place to place, depending on where you are. The music and sound design is by composer Ellen Reid, who is joined in parts by Kronos Quartet. Since the performance you hear is based on your position and route, no two listeners’ experiences will be identical. It’s able to be enjoyed while getting fresh air and remaining socially distant. (There are also sonic “Easter eggs” to discover.) This is the third of these projects to have been ‘installed’ – there’s one in New York City’s Central Park too. CAP UCLA commissioned the L.A. version of the piece and, with Ellen Reid, chose Griffith Park as the location.
It’s an opportunity for Opera and New Music fans to have a chance to hear what life – and composing music – is like for Jake Heggie these days, as performances have been curtailed because of the pandemic. This Saturday at 2pm, the Amateur Music Network hosts a conversation called “At Home with Jake Heggie” (composer of Dead Man Walking and Moby Dick) moderated by “long time friend and self-proclaimed music wannabe”, David Landis. The Amateur Music Network is a (currently virtual) meeting place where music lovers of all abilities can come together to learn more and make connections within the musical world. The hour-long chat should be casual and an interesting perspective; among the many cancellations and postponements (in an industry that makes plans years and years ahead of schedule) there was to have been a new production of Dead Man Walking at the Met in New York this Spring. In addition to his busy composing schedule, Heggie is also in demand as a pianist and accompanist (as seen in this collaboration with cellist Matt Haimovitz and mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton):
The astronomical lunar new year is here already, but the San Francisco Symphony will be celebrating its annual musical celebration this upcoming Saturday afternoon. It’s called “Chinese New Year Virtual Celebration: Year of the Ox,” with musicians from the Symphony led by conductor Ming Luke, and joined by guest soloists playing traditional instruments. The digital concert event will be hosted by actress Joan Chen, and streaming for free on the new SFSymphony+ website, as well as on NBC Bay Area at 4pm. The program includes contemporary and traditional tunes that reflect the themes and qualities of the Year of the Ox: “prosperity, unity, and growth.”
LA Opera’s new Artist-in-Residence is getting off to a running start, as tenor Russell Thomas curated his first program in the newly returning After Hours recital series, called “Black Love.” It offers a selection of love songs by African-American composers, including H.T. Burleigh, Undine Smith Moore, and Margaret Bonds. Singers Ashley Faatoalia, Tiffany Townsend and Alaysha Fox performed in the Valentine’s Day-inspired program. Thomas will be returning to the LA Opera stage as part of his residency, with starring roles at least once per season, beginning with a performance as Radames in Aida, in May through June of 2022. There are also two training programs that Thomas will be heading up, one for singers from Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and another mentoring young singers from LA public high schools in underserved communities.
If you’ve ever wondered what being serenaded by an opera singer feels like, Opera San Jose is offering (as part of its ‘Unique Experiences’ program) a Valentine’s Day-inspired virtual singing telegram, with five of their resident artists singing from a selection of romantic ballads. Not, strictly speaking, operatic love songs, although tenor Carlos Santelli will be singing the song “Be My Love,” made famous by Mario Lanza. His Valentine (and wife), mezzo-soprano Ashley Dixon, will sing “La Vie en Rose.” The other tunes are “‘Til There Was You” from The Music Man, sung by Maya Kherani, baritone Eugene Brancoveanu with “As Time Goes By,” and “Can’t Help Falling in Love” performed by baritone Nathan Stark. The performances will be accompanied by pianist Veronika Agranov-Dafoe. Here she accompanies Eugene Brancoveanu in some Mozart…
The popularity of Netflix’s historical romance Bridgerton has also boosted the popularity, streams and downloads of an LA-based collective of musicians and arrangers known as Vitamin String Quartet. For more than 20 years, they’ve been taking contemporary songs, from Pop, Rock, and many more genres, and arranging them for chamber ensembles, primarily string quartet. And so when the society ladies and gentlemen are dancing in 1820’s London, don’t be surprised if the quartet in the corner is playing the 2019 song “Thank u, Next” by Ariana Grande.
California Symphony has brought back its popular “Fresh Look” program, a virtual primer in the basics of orchestral music, and some of its long history, led by Scott Foglesong. He’s been a faculty member at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music for more than 40 years. The four “Fresh Look: Rewind” classes stream on Thursday evenings in February, staying available on demand through the end of March. They’ll be supplemented with new online course materials, as well as a new live Q and A with Foglesong and Music Director Donato Cabrera with the final class. The cost is $25 per household for all four lectures.
The Luna Composition Lab program was founded at the Kaufman Music Center in New York in 2018 by composers Missy Mazzoli and Ellen Reid, to provide “mentorship and performance opportunities to young composers who are female-identifying, non-binary, or gender non-conforming.” The aim is to help balance the gender inequity found in classical composers, which tends to be overwhelmingly male. This afternoon five of the East Coast fellows from the 2019-20 season, and three composer fellows from California (Anya Lagman, Chloe Villamayor, and Emily Webster-Zuber) will have their works premiered by musicians from Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra in a program called Luna Lab Meets LACO. Here’s a little more background about the project, from its founders.
In past years, Chamber Music San Francisco brought soloists from around the globe to three locations in the Bay Area: San Francisco, Walnut Creek, and Palo Alto. But the five upcoming concerts between this weekend through April 24th, they’ll instead take audiences to locations around the world, for specially recorded performances. The series begins this Saturday evening with a recital by pianist Olga Kern recorded in Moscow, and is followed by violinist Mayuko Kamio from Japan on March 6th. Calefax, the Amsterdam-based “reed quintet” that shakes up expectations both in their instrumentation (with no flute or French horn, but instead oboe, clarinet, alto saxophone, bass clarinet, and bassoon) as well as in their programming. The Arod Quartet from Paris debuts on April 10th, and cellist Mischa Maisky rounds out the series with a program from Brussels (joined by his daughter Lily on piano, and son Sascha playing violin).
A $50,000 grant from the National Endowment of the Arts will enable the Los Angeles Master Chorale to continue finding virtual ways to make music together while the Walt Disney Concert Hall remains closed due to the pandemic. The choir has created several composite performances, and two more that will be premiering soon at their mid-May gala will show off all 100 of their singers. One is by composer Meredith Monk, “Earth Seen from Above,” from her opera called Atlas, and the other is “Ready, Bright,” commissioned by the Master Chorale from composer Derrick Spiva, Jr. Along with Reena Esmail’s “TaReKiTa” video from last November (below) they’ll make up a triptych they’re calling Shine Bright.
Timo Andres does double duty in launching San Francisco Performances’ new addition to their “Front Row” series. Despite the name, the Front Row Premium series of concerts are free, and include some longtime musical friends of SF Performances. First up, both this Thursday and also on the 25th is composer and pianist Timo Andres. The first recital will juxtapose the music of Franz Schubert and Philip Glass, and the second has repertoire that stretches from Couperin through John Adams and (jazz pianist and composer) Sir Roland Hanna. He’ll be followed by pianist Jonathan Biss with a Beethoven program on March 4th, and guitarist Jason Vieaux on March 18th. These concerts are being newly recorded for these releases – Andres and Biss had been scheduled in 2020-2021 season concerts that had to be cancelled.
Musicians returning – virtually – to their alma mater. Alumni of the Colburn School are coming together in chamber configurations for a series of concerts called “Next Up” starting this Saturday. The initial program, a string trio arrangement of Bach’s Goldberg Variations will feature Grace Park, the winner of the 2018 Naumberg International Violin Competition, Ben Ullery a Colburn alum who teaches there and is the LA Phil’s Assistant Principal Viola, and Robert deMaine, the LA Phil’s Principal Cello. There are a total of five concerts (free with registration) with eclectic programming, including the trumpet and bass trombone duo that call themselves “The Two Gabagools” playing on March 13th. There are also programs featuring clarinetist Alicia Lee (Conservatory ‘08), as well as a piano and cello duo, and a “Popular and Modern Music Jukebox” to finish the series on May 29th.
This week will mark the West Coast premiere of the filmed song cycle Breathing Free, by New York-based Heartbeat Opera. It’s presented by The Broad Stage this Wednesday and Saturday (and at the Mondavi Center on the 20th and 27th.) In 2018, they took the spirit of Beethoven’s “Prisoner’s Chorus” and brought it up to the present, by teaming with several prison choirs in the US, and recording their performances to be used in their production of Fidelio. This “visual album” includes that chorus, as well as a few arias from Fidelio, side by side with spirituals and works by African-American composers. The intersection of the fight for social justice, as well as the dangers of being incarcerated during a pandemic come together in Breathing Free, and there will be panel discussions (“Stories of Transformation – Artists share about their creative and inspiring work with prison populations” and “Advocates for Change – Local policy makers and educators discuss their work toward restorative justice”) as well as audience Q&A sessions following the performances.
Tik Tok might not be the place where you expect to find the Associate Principal Violist of the New York Philharmonic acting goofy, but Rebecca Young has been having a lot of fun doing so lately. She goes by “ry_violamom” on the site, and posts spontaneous duets (after driving to an orchestra colleague’s house, running up to their door, and playing outside with them, masked). But her tour de force was this recent attempt (and successful attempt) to tell the story of Peter and the Wolf, complete with the appropriate musical examples, in under a minute – the maximum duration of posts on the site.
@ry_violamomPeter and the Wolf, in under a minute! #nyphil #prokofiev #funny #fast #music♬ original sound – Rebecca Young
For 45 years, Robin Sutherland was the principal pianist at the San Francisco Symphony, until he retired in 2018. He died at the end of last year, and Bay Area piano players will be presenting a concert in his honor through the Ross McKee Foundation this Friday evening, as the first of their “Piano Break” series of 2021. Performers Christopher Basso, Britt Day, Elizabeth Dorman, Jeffrey LaDeur, Jeffrey Kahane, Keisuke Nakagoshi, and Marc Shapiro will present a wide selection of music, as well as share memories of their friend. This video profile of Robin Sutherland was produced by the SF Symphony a few years ago:
Lumee’s Dream is an aria from the opera p r i s m, by composer Ellen Reid and librettist Roxie Perkins. It’s from the opera’s second act, and Lumee sings it while smoking outside a nightclub. It’s the latest virtual offering of LA Opera’s ‘On Now’ Digital Short series. The video itself begins with the subjects in sharp focus, but as Lumee sings the text “I had my favorite dream last night” the images blur and become fractal and kaleidoscopic. The short will be available on the LA Opera website through February 12th.
Gustavo Dudamel, on the podium, and in conversation – as the Los Angeles Philharmonic presents Icons on Inspiration. It’s a benefit event, but the program that they’ll be streaming this Saturday evening is free. There will be musical performances, recorded recently at the Hollywood Bowl, with works by Jessie Montgomery, Duke Ellington (in an arrangement by Terence Blanchard), Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky, Márquez, Romero, and Mahler. Pianist Yuja Wang and soprano Liv Redpath will also be performing, and the other guests, from beyond the world of Classical Music, are Julie Andrews, Common, Katy Perry, Natalie Portman, and Grammy and Latin Grammy award-winner Carlos Vives.
Members of the National Children’s Chorus have presented their Winter Digital Concert this past weekend, including a pair of NCC commission world premieres. The program, called “Nella Fantasia” gets its title from the final work – a choral setting of Ennio Morricone’s music from the film The Mission, set with a text that begins: “In my fantasy I see a just world, where everyone lives in peace and honesty.” The commissions are an arrangement of the song Sam Cooke made famous during the Civil Rights Era, “A Change is Gonna Come,” byTehillah Alphonso, and a new arrangement for treble voices by Eric Whitacre of his “Goodnight Moon.” He says in the concert video introduction that it was a favorite of his child at bedtime, and the original version arose as melodies presented themselves while reading the story aloud.
A temporarily closed museum serves as a concert venue for a performance from The Living Earth Show’s percussionist, Andy Meyerson. Along with dancers from Post:ballet, he performed A Natural History of Vacant Lots by composer Christopher Cerrone. It’s a piece he originally wrote as a quartet for the members of Third Coast Percussion. This new arrangement, for solo vibraphone, additional percussion and pre-recorded electronics, had its premiere in the San Francisco Museum of Craft and Design at the end of last week. Andy Meyerson, and his fellow TLES member, guitarist Travis Andrews have taken their performances to unexpected locations, like the Sutro Baths in 2019 for a performance of Raven Chacon’s Tremble Staves, and have used newly invented instruments, like when they played Dennis Aman’s 24 Preludes and Fugues, which included movements for amplified Jell-O.
Musicians from the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra have presented a few “popup” concerts under the banner of – or actually surrounded by – a Big Purple Square… The PVC square has delineated makeshift stages so far in Alamo Square Park (with the familiar backdrop of the Painted Ladies) as well as San Francisco’s City Hall. It also serves to remind passersby and audience members to keep socially distanced. Here’s the video of the concert they gave at City Hall, contending a bit with Civic Center traffic and hubbub as they played music from Henry Purcell’s Fairy Queen.
Friday at 6:30, the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra presents another of their “Close Quarters” concert programs, this time featuring two world premieres by composer Derrick Spiva, Jr. His Mother of Bravery, for chamber ensemble and dancer (Shauna Davis) “walks the path from fear to bravery,” and celebrates the “4,096 ancestors that each person is directly descended from in 12 generations.” All of those who came before had to live long enough, and meet to combine and eventually lead to who we are. The other piece is called Mind the Rhythm, for solo amplified violin (Tereza Stanislav) and electronics. There’s a pre-broadcast conversation with the composer that starts at 5:30. The performance will premiere on LACO’s YouTube page.
The program the chamber group called Ensemble for These Times will be live streaming this Saturday evening is called “Rhapsody: Music by Women Composers,” and eleven of them will be represented. It was to include ten living composers, with an additional work by the late Grażyna Bacewicz, but just this month, Claudia Montero died. The concert, and her piano trio called Buenos Aires in Tres will be performed in her memory. The instrumentation of the Ensemble is soprano Nanette McGuinness, cellist Anne Lerner, the season’s guest pianist Margaret Halbig, and guest violinist Ilana Blumberg. There are works by Jessie Montgomery, Jennifer Higdon, Missy Mazzoli and Caroline Shaw, as well as Anna Clyne, Tania León, Marti Epstein, Elinor Armer, and Vivian Fung. The program will be streamed at the Center for New Music’s YouTube channel, and you can RSVP to the free concert here.
For Mozart’s 265th birthday, the San Francisco Chamber Orchestra is doing what they like to do every year – celebrate it! They’ve got a musical program that includes a Duo for Violin and Viola, the 12 variations for piano on “Ah vous dirai-je, Maman” (the same melody as “Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star”) and the Flute Quartet in D Major. Music Director Benjamin Simon will be joined by SFCO All-Stars Liana Bérubé, Tod Brody, Michael Graham, and Keisuke Nakagoshi. There will be a Mozart Trivia Contest, and the appearance of more than a powdered wig or two.
Wednesday is the 76th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, and International Holocaust Remembrance Day. This past weekend, Seattle-based Music of Remembrance presented a virtual concert of works by composers whose music lives on, despite having been victims of the Nazi camps. The concert is called “Art From Ashes,” with works by better-known composers like the Czechoslovakian Hans Krása (whose children’s opera, Brundibár was performed at the Terezin concentration camp during the war) and Erwin Schulhoff, who was on the faculty of the Conservatory of Prague. There’s also David Beigelman, from Poland, who directed the Lodz Yiddish Theater, Dutch composer Dick Kattenburg, and Hungarians László Weiner and Paul Hermann. The chamber works on this program were written as early as 1921, and up to 1944. The players for MOR are members of the Seattle Symphony Orchestra.
The projects that have won Music Academy of the West’s Alumni Enterprise Awards this year have in common musicians using their knowledge and artistry to help others discover, learn, and enjoy music in new ways. They include a South America-based program called Music to Breathe 24/7, which arranged individual musical performances for patients with COVID-19 and their relatives. There’s also a mentorship program called “Composition of a City” on the South Side of Chicago run by the non-profit called LYNX, that introduces young people to Classical music in a curriculum that also includes rap music. Rich Coburn has received funding to create an online library of music for voice and orchestra by Black, Indigenous, and other Composers of Color. Tubist Cristina Cutts Dougherty’s “The Resilience Project” will chronicle pioneering orchestral brass players and teachers from the 1940s through today, and Red Light Arts and Culture will create a series of pop-up and walking tour concerts that are socially distanced throughout Amsterdam’s Red Light District. Over the past four years, 26 alumni have received a total of 320 thousand dollars for their initiatives from Music Academy of the West.
If you’ve ever wondered what’s going through the head of a soloist playing a violin concerto, or what it sounds like without the orchestra, Rachel Barton Pine is offering a unique opportunity to find out. In a program she’s calling “24 in 24,” the violinist is taking on a different concerto each week, and livestreaming an introduction to the piece – how she approaches and prepares for it, how she got to know it – and then she’ll play it through, unaccompanied. This is the way she first plays it for a conductor before rehearsing with an orchestra. The series began earlier this month with the Mendelsson, (previous episodes are available to ticket buyers on-demand) and runs through June. This Sunday afternoon at one, she’ll be taking on the Tchaikovsky, with upcoming weeks including the concertos of Samuel Barber, and Beethoven.
The San Francisco Symphony has announced its new season of Digital Concerts, which will be available on its new video streaming service, called SFSymphony Plus. They’ll be offering seven SoundBox programs, which build on their popular series that brought curated music outside of Davies Symphony Hall. Esa-Pekka Salonen will program three of them, joined by some of his “Collaborative Partners” (soprano Julia Bullock, composer Nico Muhly, flutist Claire Chase) as well as harpist and singer Destiny Muhammad. There will also be more episodes in the “Currents” series that they began this summer, exploring musical traditions from around the world that help shape the cultural landscape of the Bay Area. There are five episodes, about the influence of Indian Classical, Native American, Zimbabwean, Persian, and Klezmer music. The first concert, which premieres on February 4th is curated and conducted by Esa-Pakka Salonen, and is called “Nostalgia,” with chamber works by Freya Waley-Cohen, Missy Mazzoli, and Caroline Shaw.
“The Atterbury House Sessions” is a free concert series of chamber music that violinist Lara St. John is launching this weekend, with a variety of ensembles, quartets, duos and solos… the first concert features the string quintet Sybarite5. The home for the series is a mansion on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, which has been described by the New York Times as “a charming, idiosyncratic collection of copper bays, oriels, greenhouses and other projections… plastered on to an old brownstone.” The house is celebrating its 150th anniversary, and St. John wanted to help fellow musicians (both financially and artistically) who have been unable to perform for live audiences during the pandemic. The concerts have been funded by private donations, so they’ll stream for free on St. John’s Facebook and Youtube pages.
Brass and percussion players from across the United States have teamed up for an Inauguration Day virtual performance of a pair of celebratory works: Aaron Copland’s classic Fanfare for the Common Man, and a piece inspired by it decades later, from 1987, Joan Tower’s Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman. The group of 14 musicians, led by conductor Marin Alsop, is called the Hope and Harmony Ensemble. It includes two California players, John Lofton, bass trombone of the LA Phil, and Barry Perkins, principal trumpet of the Pacific Symphony. The project was put together by the organization called Classical Movements, which arranges tours and travel (in safer times) for musical groups around the country.
It’s a flute-fest tonight on the PSO Allstars@Home, when the Peninsula Symphony’s Music Director Mitchell Sardou Klein is joined by flutist Emi Ferguson. Her last appearance with the orchestra had her playing two concertos, one by Carl Reinecke, and a Vivaldi concerto nicknamed “The Goldfinch” which she both soloed, and reimagined as a composer (bringing into the mix many more birdcalls than originally written by Vivaldi). She has a varied background as a performer, having appeared with Yo-Yo Ma and the Handel and Haydn Society, but also James Taylor and Paul Simon. She also has her own group called “Ruckus.” She and Klein will have a discussion, and she’ll play several solo works by Bach, Debussy, John Williams and others. The stream, on the PSO YouTube channel, begins at 8pm on Tuesday the 19th.
There’s a certain symmetry in a recent recording of the work called “Equal Time” by composer Gernot Wolfgang. It’s a duet for bassoon, and both parts are played by Judith Farmer. She’s on the faculty of the USC Thornton School of Music, and is the former principal bassoonist of the Austrian Radio Symphony Orchestra. The piece is near and dear to her too, since she’s married to Wolfgang. The video of one of the movements shows her sharing a music stand with herself, differently outfitted and hairstyled, standing ‘side by side.’
A turbulence in the flow of blood provides the title of the upcoming album from the ensemble Imani Winds. A piece written for them (and piano) by pianist and composer Vijay Iyer is called Bruits, the sound that can be detected by a doctor with a stethoscope, which signals that there’s an abnormality, like an obstructed artery. Iyer used that medical metaphor as a critique of the US justice system; he was inspired to write the piece by the trial in the shooting of Trayvon Martin in 2012. The controversial ‘Stand Your Ground’ law that led to the death of the young man is read as text in one of the movements, and the words of Lucy McBath, a Georgia congresswoman whose son was also shot and killed ends another of the movements. In the liner notes for the upcoming album, the ensemble says “Speaking our truths can help clear the pathways to unity… Important art leads to radical change.”
The Bay Area’s chamber orchestra One Found Sound has increased its efforts toward racial diversity in its programming this season, committing to programming a majority of the works in their concerts works by composers who are Black, Indigenous, LatinX, Asian, Pacific Islander, or other person of color. In addition to that, there are two separate efforts to create new works by those composers, both experienced and new. A New Music Commissioning Fund will have a $10,000 yearly commission from an established composer, and an Emerging Composer Award seeks scores from composers under the age of 25. The winning composer will be awarded a thousand dollars, and have their piece performed in the following season. Applications for the first Emerging Composer Award are open through March 15, and more information can be found at One Found Sound’s website. One of the composers of color that was represented this season was Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson, who wrote the Sinfonietta that this Rondo is from.
Showing pride for its hometown daughter, the Oakland Symphony will be streaming a “virtual inaugural ball” program called “Oakland Salutes Madame Vice President” this Sunday afternoon at 3. (It will then be available on demand) There will be musical performances and words of congratulations in honor of incoming Vice President Kamala Harris, who was born in Oakland and grew up in the East Bay. Among the many organizations that will be taking part are the Oakland Symphony and Music Director Michael Morgan, their chorus and Youth Orchestra, the Piedmont East Bay Children’s Chorus, Oakland Interfaith Gospel Chorus, as well as the Chitresh Das Institute of traditional Indian dance, soloists like Van-Anh Vo and cellist Emil Miland, along with many others.
Nebraska of the 1870s is the setting for Missy Mazzoli’s opera Proving Up, which tells of the hardships of pioneering homesteaders. One reviewer described the work as “Little House on the Prairie Meets The Shining.” They had to create farms and homes that would meet the stipulations of the Homestead Act in order for them to obtain the deed to the land that they had settled. And one of the hardest of those hurdles was to have windows with panes of glass in them, something almost impossible to acquire and maintain in the harsh and unforgiving environment. The next “digital short” from LA Opera is inspired by that opera, and is a scene called The West Is a Land of Infinite Beginnings, which is sardonically sung by a sodbuster who’s been driven mad by the challenge. The short is streaming for free (with registration) through LA Opera’s site through January 29th.
Lou Harrison’s music, played where he lived, by the soloist he wrote it for… A new video released by the New York-based chamber orchestra called “The Knights” takes a movement of Harrison’s Concerto for Pipa and Strings, and brings it to the Lou Harrison House in Joshua Tree. The video (and the movement) is called ‘Bits and Pieces,’ and is divided into several different parts. The performance has five members of The Knights playing their western classical stringed instruments as Wu Man plays the chinese lute called the pipa. She worked with Lou Harrison as he was writing the piece for her, and is the best known player of the instrument today. In the final section of the movement, she makes her pipa sound like a Neapolitan mandolin. They’re all joined by dancer/choreographer Maile Okamura, who has close associations with Harrison’s music as a longtime dancer in the Mark Morris Dance Group.
The star-crossed lovers Romeo and Juliet fall in love on the San Francisco Opera stage again this weekend, with a free livestream of the 2019 season opening production of Gounod’s retelling. Tenor Pene Pati and soprano Nadine Sierra made their role debuts in those performances, both alumni of the Merola and Adler programs. As part of SF Opera’s “Opera is On” program, the stream will be available from 10 in the morning on Saturday through midnight Sunday. On the 23rd and 24th, there will be a stream of Saint-Saens’ Samson and Delilah, and the weekend after that, Verdi’s La Traviata.
At a time when there’s less light than other times of the year, a musical note of optimism: the LA-based new music collective called Wild Up is presenting its second ‘Darkness Sounding’ festival starting this Friday, running through Valentine’s Day. It includes a variety of performances, and performance experiences. On Sunday the 17th, Richard Valitutto will be presenting a concert of contemplative and long solo piano music that runs from local sunrise at 6:58 to sunset at 5:08. There are some events that audiences will experience through Zoom or Soundcloud, and others that will include more direct communication. Holland Andrews’ There You Are involves the artist creating an individualized piece and calling a series of audience members on the telephone. Odeya Nini’s I see you will have her come to outside an audience member’s house, and perform a five minute piece by appointment. There’s also a moving installation of large chimes that will take residence around the LA area for a week at a time during the run of the festival. Admission and access is through Wild Up’s Fan Club, their Patreon community.
Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal has announced that they’re going to have a new Music Director starting in 2022, and he’s known to San Diego audiences: Rafael Payare, the Venezuelan conductor who’s became the Music Director of the San Diego Symphony in July of 2019. He’ll be continuing in that role in both cities. Payere steps into the job left by Kent Nagano at the end of this past season, and already he’s getting a jump on the appointment, by being an Artist-in-Residence with OSM this season. This past weekend he led them in a performance of Brahms’ First Symphony in a free webcast. While young, charismatic Venezuelan conductors brought up in the ‘El Sistema’ program of immersive music education may be familiar to Southern California audiences, Payare is only the ninth music director for the Montreal Symphony, and the first from South America. In 2013, he married cellist Alisa Weilerstein.
Among the varied repertoire Julia Bullock will sing in her “Cal Performances at Home” recital with pianist Laura Poe, will be three arias from John Adams’ Girls of the Golden West, including one for the role she created at its premiere a few seasons ago. There are also art songs by Schumann and Wolf, songs from theater by Kurt Weill and Rogers & Hammerstein, and works by William Grant Still and Margaret Bonds. The concert will premiere this Thursday evening, and will be available on demand to ticket-holders through the middle of April. Bullock is one of Esa-Pekka Salonen’s “collaborative partners” at San Francisco Symphony, and has recently presented a “Tiny Desk” (home) concert for NPR with her husband, conductor Christian Reif accompanying her. Here are the two of them with a ‘song of comfort’ from Franz Schubert:
Memorable highlights from performances from years past return to the TV airwaves this Friday, with a PBS series called In Concert at the Hollywood Bowl. The series of six programs runs through February 19th, beginning with one dedicated to “Musicals and the Movies,” with Broadway stars Kristin Chenoweth and Audra McDonald. Other shows are called “Made in Mexico,” “Jazz at the Hollywood Bowl,” “Gustavo and Friends,” “Music Without Borders,” and “Fireworks!” The LA Phil is led by Gustavo Dudamel and others, including John Williams conducting his score from Star Wars, and other guests like Vin Scully narrating Aaron Copland’s Lincoln Portrait.
Helgi Tómasson, who has been the Artistic Director and Principal Choreographer of San Francisco Ballet for more than 35 years, has announced that he’s going to be stepping down by June of 2022. He’s created more than 50 works for the company, commissioned many others from established and rising choreographers, and helped to expand the reputation and influence of San Francisco Ballet. This past year, he’s reimagined the season for the digital world, and shepherded new works for film into the world. Before coming to San Francisco in 1985, he had been a dancer with the Joffrey and New York City Ballet companies. In 2018, he created a showcase for new works from emerging artists, the “Unbound Festival,” which is planned to return in 2023.
In a room that once was part of the Beverly Hills Post Office, violinist Anne Akiko Meyers and pianist Fabio Bidini will give a “Sorting Room Session” recital of music from France. The Lovelace Studio Theater at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts goes by that apt nickname, and the concert, with works by Gounod, Massenet and Ravel will premiere this Saturday evening, with a 24-hour window for ticket holders. The other star of the performance will be the 1741 Guarneri violin that was once owned by Belgian composer and virtuoso performer Henri Vieuxtemps. The more-than-16 million dollar instrument has been on a lifetime loan to Meyers since 2013, and is so valuable because it’s remained in such excellent condition all these centuries.
Last February, pianist Angela Hewitt lost her “best friend” – the beautiful Fazioli grand piano that she’d been playing and recording with for 17 years – when movers dropped the instrument, and damaged it beyond repair. It had been specially built for her, with four pedals, and was the only one of its kind. She recently opened up about the experience of finding its replacement, which she was able to choose from a selection of five new pianos at the Fazioli factory near Venice. She had to wait until the Summer, when a travel ban had been lifted. She played each instrument, ruled a few out right away, and narrowed the choice to two very similar pianos. The first time she played the new one in public was for this livestream concert in November. She described the successor this way: “Playing it made me feel I had the world of sound at my fingertips… I have a new piano and a whole new world. Everything I give to it, it gives back and more, so I can really play the way I want to. It’s a wonderful feeling.”
The Santa Rosa Symphony will be continuing its new approach to concertizing in five more editions of its “@Home” series into the Spring. And they’ll be doing it with the company of composer Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for composition. She’ll be the Artistic Partner for the series, which Francesco Lecce-Chong will again lead with reduced forces in an empty Weill Hall. The performances will be streamed live on YouTube, available to the public for free, and subscribers have the opportunity to watch for up to a month, as well as having access to additional recitals by guest artists. The repertoire will include a work by Zwilich on each program, and there will be other women composers represented, from Mozart contemporary Marianna Martines to Jessie Montgomery and Caroline Shaw (the fifth woman to win the Pulitzer, 30 years after Zwilich). The first concert, on January 24th includes an arrangement of Bach by Anton Webern, as well as Mozart’s 39th Symphony.
LA Opera premieres 13 short newly commissioned works in a co-production with New York’s Prototype Festival this weekend. The program is called Modulation, and includes works by a diverse group of young composers and sound artists. Audiences will be able to navigate their way through the pieces virtually, as they take on subjects that include isolation, identity and fear. The “baker’s dozen” composers include Sahba Aminikia, Carmina Escobar, Jimmy López Bellido, Angélica Negrón, and Daniel Bernard Roumain. Ticket-holders will be able to stream the program from Friday the 8th through the 16th at the LA Opera website.
For most of the time, in conversation, when there’s a delay during a Zoom, FaceTime or Skype call, it’s not critical, or might not even be noticed. But that changes if you’re trying to do anything that involves being in sync with a person or people on the other end – like play or sing music. The JackTrip Foundation’s Virtual Studio allows musicians who are rehearsing remotely to cut that delay or lag down to the point where it’s almost imperceptible. It uses a combination of a hardware interface, software, and dedicated servers, which they’re trying to make as available as possible. The software is open-source, and the interface box can be built (by the adventurous or skillful) using instructions they provide. The speed of the signal is helped if all the users are within a few hundred miles of the server, and right now there are dedicated servers in both the LA and Bay Area. The beta testers for the technology were the singers of the Ragazzi Boys Chorus, who continue to use it as the word spreads.
The tradition of celebrating Christmas Eve with “A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols” goes back to 1918 at King’s College Chapel at Cambridge, and the radio broadcasts began in 1928. They were able to continue the practice with a congregation in attendance almost every season since then, but this year, for the first time, the vast Gothic church that dates from the mid-1400s will only have the singers, readers, and the recording technicians onsite. The only way to experience it is through the radio broadcast, even in the UK. We’ll be carrying the special as it happens, at 7am Pacific time on the 24th.
When you think of Artificial Intelligence, it might be as part of science fiction, or perhaps many of the devices and pieces of software that we encounter every day. But a new organization is interested in seeing how AI can give a boost to composers and musicians – and how they in turn can help create better AI in the future. DeepMusic.ai is a project that brings together violinist Hilary Hahn and Carol Reiley, the roboticist who’s one of Esa-Pekka Salonen’s Collaborative Partners at the San Francisco Symphony. They commissioned composers to work with AI tools: introducing the software to their musical language, and then seeing what might be generated in response. In this piano piece by Michael Abels, the software’s material was then used and improved by the composer, leading him to new places. The hope is that by involving musicians in the process as AI technology improves, they can build creativity into the software more organically, and not as an afterthought.
The LA County Holiday Celebration is a longstanding Christmas Eve tradition, with the three hour special broadcast on PBS SoCal annually. This year things will (of course) be a bit different, but the show will go on. It will just be pre-recorded, which will give them the opportunity to have interviews and profiles of some of the participating groups. Included among them will be the Southern California Brass Consortium, the Opera Company from the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts, and the American Youth Symphony. Suzanna Guzman will be the host, and the program premieres on Thursday from 3 to 6, on TV and livestream, followed by encore broadcasts from 7-10 and Noon to 3 on Christmas Day.
Augustin Hadelich demonstrates his chops as both a violinist and piano player in a video performance of a jazz tune called “Black Gypsy.” It was written by Eddie South, a virtuoso violinist who turned to jazz because, as an African-American in the first half of the 20th Century, he wasn’t allowed to have a professional classical career. South played in Vaudeville, and travelled, including to Hungary in the 1920s, where he heard and fell in love with the music of the Roma people, which inspired his playing and compositions. He also played with Stephane Grappelli in Paris. Augustin Hadelich is joined here by Quartet San Francisco, in an arrangement by the quartet’s founder Jeremy Cohen. Don’t let the calm opening fool you – there are some pyrotechnics ahead!
Earlier in the pandemic, the 180-voice Angel City Chorale created a video for the song “Sogno di Volare,” (The Dream of Flight) by composer Christopher Tin. It cut between members of the choir singing close to home by themselves, and sweeping drone shots of Los Angeles, with empty streets, and closed with the message “we will fly again”. That video gave them the confidence to try to recreate virtually their annual seasonal concert, which they’ve called “It’s Not the Holidays ‘til the Angels Sing.” Hosted by Artistic Director and founder Sue Fink, there are new selections with singers performing holiday songs from their homes, as well as concert video from years past.
It won’t be the big group march that it’s been in years past, but the organizers of Unsilent Night are hoping that families might take part in their own celebrations, more subdued and safe, around their own neighborhoods. The event dates to 1992, when composer Phil Kline, who had gone caroling when he was a kid, wanted to recapture that feeling of sharing music in outdoor spaces in winter. He was also a collector of boomboxes, so he decided to write a piece of music that was 45 minutes long (so it would fit on one side of an audio cassette) and have people carry boomboxes playing one of four parts that when played together, created the piece. Many years later, the music can be downloaded or streamed to phones. The organized march won’t be happening, but masked household members can recreate the event in miniature. “We can still celebrate by bringing music and light to the streets separately, but together.” Here’s a look at a pre-Covid era Unsilent Night:
This week has rightly focused a lot of attention on Beethoven, but the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra is going to be shining a spotlight on Bach in the next “Close Quarters” concert, which takes place at 6:30 Friday on their YouTube and Facebook pages. Also featured will be Jaime Martín and his flute. The Music Director will be leading the ensemble in Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto Number 5, as well as being the flute soloist. He’ll also play Debussy’s work for solo flute called Syrinx.
The choral ensemble called Volti has commissioned several new works specifically for this first virtual season, and they’re going to be premiering one called Singing Puzzles this Saturday early evening. It’s by Bay Area composer Danny Clay, who wrote a work that should be performed and recorded over Zoom. The score leaves much room for improvisation and there’s also a bit of game playing involved. Clay has described the piece as “an experimental musical variety show.” The ensemble, led by Artistic Director and founder Robert Geary, is more than 40 years old, and has commissioned more than 100 new works, living up to their motto of “singing without a net.”
Musica Angelica Baroque Orchestra presents its first livestream concert this Saturday, with a program that they recorded over a two day period. The dozen or so musicians were playing in masks, physically distanced, and tested for Covid, and played works by Handel, Vivaldi, Bach, led by Associate Artistic Director Gonzalo Ruiz, who plays both baroque oboe and guitar in the performance. The livestream will be on YouTube and Vimeo, and ultimately be a part of their educational outreach series for the Long Beach School District. You can see a sneak preview here.
The worlds of music-making and medicine might not seem to be likely bedfellows, but there’s a long history of doctors turning their attention to music as a means of relaxation or inspiration. Not so long after the pandemic began, a new ensemble was formed, which has never played together in person. The National Virtual Medical Orchestra is made up entirely of talented medical professionals. They’ve released several performances online, but this week they’ll have a chance to have a much bigger platform, when they’re playing in a free concert presented by Live with Carnegie Hall called “Music as Medicine”. Violinist Joshua Bell will make a guest appearance, and the concert will be streamed on Carnegie Hall’s YouTube and Facebook pages.
For the past three years, Bard College Conservatory of Music has hosted a “China Now” music festival, meant to foster the relationship between musicians in the US and China. This year’s online celebration, underway now, and coinciding with the 250th anniversary of the composer’s birth, is on the topic of China and Beethoven. His music and life story – composing even as his deafness grew worse – has led to a great popularity and renown in China. But it wasn’t always that way. Artistic Director of the festival, Jindong Cai (who was Director of Orchestral Studies at Stanford for more than a decade) got his introduction by listening in secret to records that belonged to the father of one of his friends. In the late 1960s, Western classical music was prohibited as part of the Cultural Revolution, and was a punishable offense. Showing how much things have changed, on the 15th, there’s a concert of performances by the Shanghai Symphony of some of Beethoven’s best known chamber and symphonic works, and on the 17th, there’s a roundtable discussion called “Building Bridges Through Music: Beethoven in Beijing.”
The L.A. Master Chorale is hosting its Holiday Karaoke celebration again, this time online, live on the 17th at 7pm (although the video will remain on-demand through the end of the year. They’ve got some videos to help you learn the repertoire, guided by individual singers (some part by part, and then together, like this tutorial for the “Hallelujah” Chorus from Handel’s Messiah. There are some newly recorded works, as well as archived performances from past seasons. Grant Gershon and Jenny Wong will lead the evening, which is a mix of works for the choir, as well as many seasonal “Sing-Along” tunes.
There will also be pre-recorded performances during this weekend’s Ragazzi Boys Chorus concert called “Beyond the Stars,” but thanks to technology, the boys will be singing from their respective homes. They’ll be using the “Virtual Studio” which reduces the delay that is generally experienced during video calls to the point where it’s negligible, and they can be together, musically. The concert repertoire this Sunday at 4 will include a mix of holiday songs, as well as pieces with the themes of endurance and optimism.
The story of the indigenous peasant Juan Diego and his miraculous visions of the Virgin of Guadalupe is retold in music and dance in La Virgen de Guadalupe, Dios Inantzin, traditionally the largest theatrical holiday production in Los Angeles. This year, the Latin Theater Company will be streaming an archival performance of the pageant from 2009, recorded at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, and starring mezzo-soprano Suzanna Guzmán, along with more than 100 actors, singers, and dancers (including many members of the community). Juan Diego’s visions occurred near Mexico City in the 16th Century, and remain an important cultural part of the history of Mexico and Catholicism. The stream premieres at 7pm Friday night, and will remain available on demand through December 20th.
The Dover Quartet began when the members were 19-year-old students at the Curtis Institute of Music. During their studies, they worked with the Guarneri Quartet, who they’ve already been compared to. They got a Grammy nomination last month for their recording of Robert Schumann’s quartets, and they’ve recently been made faculty at Curtis, as the first in a new Ensemble-in-Residence program. That residency is multi-pronged, including teaching, performing around the world, and perhaps most importantly during the time of COVID, working with new technology to increase their digital presence. Tonight they’ll be streaming a concert especially recorded for Cal Performances’ “At Home” series of concerts, with a program of works by Haydn, Ligeti, and Dvorak. After the premiere, it will be available on-demand for ticket holders through March the 10th.
A holiday tradition continues at L.A.’s Skirball Cultural Center, as it presents its Hanukkah Celebration online this year, with a virtual Festival of Lights. There will be a community candle lighting and sing-along, with musical guests ‘Mostly Kosher’ playing Klezmer music, as well as the Ethiopian/Israeli singer Gili Yalo. For kids there will also be a retelling of the Hanukkah story with puppets, and (during the realtime stream on Sunday at 3) there’s a virtual game to win prizes. The celebration is free, although RSVPs to their website are recommended, and the video will remain available to watch on demand.
The most recent group of singers on the NBC TV show “The Voice” includes one contestant unlike any other they’ve had before. Countertenor John Holiday applied for the show after it became clear that the performances he’d been planning for his season were going to be cancelled because of COVID. (In February, he had sung in the premiere production of Matthew Aucoin’s Eurydice at L.A. Opera). Instead of singing Handel arias like “Ombra mai fu,” he’s astonished audiences with covers of standards like “Misty” and “Fly Me to the Moon,” as well as the pop songs “Summer Soft” and “All By Myself”. He was selected by John Legend to be on his team, and has made it to the top 17, thanks in part to the TV audience voting to “save” him last week, allowing him to continue without fear of being eliminated by any of the judges. The competition will continue Monday night.
The Israel Philharmonic is hosting a Pre-Hanukkah Global Celebration this Sunday (at 11 am Pacific time, when it’s evening in Israel). The two stars are film composer Hans Zimmer, and the young conductor Lahav Shani, who was named their Music Director to begin in the 2020-21 season. In 2018, he became the youngest ever Chief Conductor of the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra. The event, which will include performances by musicians of the Israel Philharmonic, will include messages of hope for the season, songs, and more celebrity guests, like Bette Midler and Israeli actress Rona-Lee Shimon. It will be streamed internationally for free, and is made possible by the American Friends of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra and the Israel Philharmonic Foundation.
Composer Brian Baumbusch has spent the past five years writing music that’s very difficult to play in a live performance. He combines parts that are playing in very precise, but different tempos at the same time. When the pandemic forced performances to be recorded remotely, he realized that a larger work would be possible – and the UC Santa Cruz Wind Ensemble commissioned the work that became Isotropes. All the players would record their parts while listening to an individual click track, in more than a thousand fragments of different lengths, to be assembled by Baumbusch. Later this month, their recording of Isotropes (which plays on the word trope as a short musical gesture, as well as the “iso-” in isolation) will be released on Other Minds records, and CSU Fullerton’s Wind Symphony is in the process of recording their version, and Baumbusch hopes they’ll get a chance to play the piece live next year. They had an online premiere during the summer of an earlier mix of the UCSC Wind Ensemble performance:
At the beginning of the pandemic, L.A.-based composer Richard Danielpour was told by his doctor that his asthma put him into the higher-risk category, and that he should keep entirely at home. He spent the early days with frequent insomnia, finding himself waking up at 2 a.m. each night. He did write the libretto to an opera during those night hours, but he really needed to be able to sleep. He began listening to the recordings of Simone Dinnerstein, and found they were able to help him calm down and finally get rest. He had already begun thinking of a work he wanted to write – an hour-long solo piece of gratitude for the heroes of the pandemic: nurses, doctors, first responders, teachers, scientists, as well as those who didn’t survive. Oregon Bach Festival had earlier commissioned his The Passion of Yeshua, and when he was talking with them about this new project, they suggested Dinnerstein as a perfect match. The result is An American Mosaic, which will have its premiere this Sunday afternoon. She recorded the 15 movements at her Brooklyn home, and they’ll be streamed at 2 p.m. Here’s a conversation with Danielpour and Dinnerstein about the new work, which he says will have to take the place of the hug he wishes he could give us all:
Noe Music presents its last Mainstage virtual performance of the year this Sunday night at 7, with guests Rob Kapilow and the Horszowski Trio exploring Beethoven’s landmark work, the “Archduke” Trio. For years, conductor and composer Rob Kapilow has been presenting a series he calls “What Makes It Great?” – looking at the decisions made by composers that elevate a piece of music to masterworks. They’re calling this evening a lecture, demonstration and concert all in one, with the trio illustrating Kapilow’s talk with samples of the music, along with a complete performance. Kapilow says this work was written at a time in Beethoven’s life when he had retreated from society because of his worsening deafness – and looking at the music through the lens of that isolation is all the more powerful in these days of social distancing. Here’s Rob Kapilow explaining how his series began:
Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra’s series “Close Quarters” continues with Appalachian Spring this Friday, in a performance of the Suite that has the sparse orchestration that was used by Aaron Copland when the full ballet premiered in 1944. The Suite is better known in its scoring for full orchestra from 1945, but the limited number of players is more conducive for these COVID times. The ensemble will be led by Music Director Jaime Martín, and will include on the piano LACO’s Conductor Laureate, Jeffrey Kahane. It will premiere on their YouTube channel and Facebook page, and then be archived on their website.
San Francisco Opera’s costume sale is going to be online next month (a little late for a Halloween costume this year, but plenty of time for next year). The over 500 adult costumes were worn on the Opera House stage in productions of The Merry Widow, Die Fledermaus, and Tannhauser, among others, and include military uniforms, tunics, robes, and fancy ballgowns, as well as other period attire (and costumes that children wore in Tannhauser. The sale will be online from November 13th to the 15th, and prices range from $75 to $1,000, with proceeds to benefit San Francisco Opera operating expenses, including artist support.
In the spirit of Halloween, a piece of music that lets you try to channel ghosts… “Ouija” by L.A.-based composer Nora Kroll-Rosenbaum was inspired by Robert Schumann’s fascination with seances, in which he claimed to make contact with the spirits of Beethoven and Schubert. There are 16 short movements, each depicting a different emotional response (as in Schumann’s song cycle Dichterliebe) and although the music is notated, the performer is encouraged to “play at the piece, much like hands placed on a ouija board, feeling her way through the ghosts from whom she might communicate.” Here are five movements from a performance by pianist Joanne Pearce Martin from the Hear Now festival.
Italian pianist Federico Colli has a lifelong love of the instrument, joking that the best time to play it is between 2am… and midnight. He was scheduled to give a March concert for the Steinway Society – The Bay Area as a part of their 25th season, when COVID forced the cancellation of the recital. He’s about to launch season 26, in a format that they’re calling “Home Concert Hall” – which gives ticket buyers access to the recital over a four-day window from Friday to Monday. The concert performances are pre-recorded, and include an introduction by the artists, as well as a pre-concert talk. The other pianists this season are Zlata Chochieva, Vyacheslav Gryaznov, and Andrew Li. Federico Colli’s program will be of sonatas, by Domenico Scarlatti, Franz Schubert, and ending with Beethoven’s “Moonlight.” Here’s a sample of a Scarlatti sonata from his recent Chandos album, his second collection of them.
Astor Piazzolla is now thought of as one of the pillars of Argentinian classical music, mixing the bandoneon (the familiar button accordion) with chamber music and jazz to come up with a new style of tango heard in concert halls. Many tango purists originally objected to the changes he made to the form, but have come around as his music has grown in popularity worldwide. 2021 marks the centennial of the composer and performer, who died in 1992, and the Quinteto Astor Piazzolla has been performing his works for more than 20 years, and they’re going to be presenting a concert recorded in Buenos Aires especially for the Center for the Art of Performance at UCLA, which will be streamed this Sunday afternoon at 3pm. Here’s a track from their Latin Grammy-winning album “Revolucionario.”
As unprecedented as these many months have felt for all of us, there actually were many years during the 17th Century when the world, and Britain in particular, experienced similar upheavals. In a historical presentation he recently gave for the Yale Center for British Art, conductor Nicholas McGegan uses poetry, fiction, and contemporary accounts of “Plague Years.” The populations that could afford to do so tried to leave the big cities for the countryside, and sequester themselves to try to prevent spread of disease. Some would treat the letters that they received with smoke and vinegar before daring to read them. The year of 1665 was particularly bad, with so many fatalities in cities that a student a Cambridge decided to go back to his family’s home in Lincolnshire – and it was there that Isaac Newton observed the falling apple that inspired his explanation of gravity. Much was written in journals and diaries (Samuel Pepys account of the Bubonic plague was particularly harrowing) but, as McGegan points out, there was music being written too. He plays a few examples from earlier in the century, and as he points out, there were few years in which there wasn’t some sort of outbreak of illness.
A new documentary about Michael Tilson Thomas premieres tonight on PBS’s American Masters Series. It chronicles the life of the conductor and composer, from his childhood and early days in Los Angeles through his tenure as Music Director of the San Francisco Symphony. The title of the documentary, “Where Now Is” comes from an anecdote he tells about how he was thunderstruck the first time he heard the soul singer James Brown’s song “Cold Sweat.” The precision of the band, being absolutely together was like nothing he had ever heard. In a conversation he had with Brown, they discussed what the singer called the “situation of music,” and MTT said that when he’s teaching students, he tells them that the challenge and the job of a conductor is to decide – and be able to show – “when now is.”
During the pandemic, the Los Angeles Youth Orchestra has not only taken part in a U.S. Youth Orchestras eFestival (with ensembles from New Jersey, Hawaii, Chicago and San Antonio), they’ve also created this virtual performance of Elgar’s “Nimrod” from the Enigma Variations. Recently, Artistic Director Russell Steinberg arranged a panel with alumni from the orchestra – who’ve gone on to professional positions, college or graduate school, so that current members of the orchestra could get practical tips from them about how best to prepare for an audition. Although everyone’s advice (after the most important one: know the music backward and forward) differed, some of the other suggestions included limiting or interrupting long practice sessions to prevent injury, playing in the same clothes and shoes you’ll be auditioning in, recording yourself, and to help nerves, have a friend watch you play as though you were performing. Also, they said an error or memory slip would be overlooked, if you play as the “best version of yourself.”
In a strategic alliance like none other, the San Francisco Conservatory of Music has announced that it’s acquiring the arts management company Opus 3 Artists. The roster of talent that they represent includes notable performers, conductors, as well as ensembles and dance companies. (Yo-Yo Ma, Daniil Trifonov, Marin Alsop, Alisa Weilerstein, to name but a few.) Each will remain independent, but having the partnership in place will enable greater interaction between students and artists, hoping to create what they are calling “a new operating model” for the arts world, and amplifying both of their missions. It will also allow for special projects like commissions and recordings, and give students the opportunity to take part in an apprenticeship program. The Conservatory has been taking large strides in recent years, expanding its relationships with other arts leaders in the Civic Center neighborhood, including the new 12-story building (soon to be home to KDFC) across the street from Davies Symphony Hall, the Ute and William K. Bowes, Jr. Center for Performing Arts.
Pasadena Symphony is offering a new series of on-demand concerts called “Pasadena Presents” that brings back the soloists and repertoire of great concertos, but scaled down to piano or chamber accompaniment for safety. This weekend, Music Director David Lockington will introduce the performances of Angelo Xiang Yu playing the Beethoven Violin Concerto, followed by the Brahms Clarinet Quintet featuring Principal Clarinet Donald Foster with members of the orchestra. Upcoming programs include pianist Inon Barnatan playing Chopin with a chamber ensemble from the Symphony, as well as his own arrangement of Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances. The season also has an American program, with Dvorak’s “American String Quartet” and Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue.
12-year-old violinist Amaryn Olmeda will be joining a dozen members of the San Francisco Chamber Orchestra this Sunday for a performance they’re calling a “Mini-Mainstage Concert.” She rang in 2020 in their series of New Year’s Concerts, playing a Mozart violin concerto with them as their ‘debut artist.’ The concert, which will be live-streamed from the Freight and Salvage coffehouse in Berkeley Sunday afternoon, will have music of Mozart, Schubert, and Copland, plus a work by William Grant Still that Amaryn Olmeda will join them for. As you can see in the interview and musical sample below, she’s taking on more ambitious repertoire, as well as having taken an online composition course from the San Francisco Music Conservatory over the summer (while on her family farm with an array of chickens, goats, and an impressive garden).
The New West Symphony has begun its re-thought season with “A Tour of Japan,” the first of several ‘mini-festivals’ that celebrate other cultures that have helped to create the artistic culture of Southern California. Music Director Michael Christie calls the season “Global Sounds, Local Cultures,” and for the initial concert, guest violinist Anne-Akiko Meyers performed the Bach ‘double concerto’ with concertmaster Alyssa Park. It’s one of several selections of Western classical music that influenced the founder of the Suzuki method of violin instruction. But there will also be film music by Toru Takemitsu, a selection from a concerto for koto, as well as a Taiko drum performance. The performances are recorded at the Fred Kavli Theater in Thousand Oaks, as well as the Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley. Future concerts will include”tours” of India in November, South Korea in March, Mexico in May, and China in June. There are also programs for the Violins of Hope in January, and a celebration of Black History Month in February.
It’s scaled down a bit, but SF Music Day returns this weekend, hosted by InterMusic SF, and with performances from ten groups in a variety of musical traditions. In keeping with tradition, the pre-recorded sets were played at the War Memorial Veterans Building, in Herbst Theatre. From noon until about 6pm, various duos, trios, and quartets will play, representing a cross-section of music making in the Bay Area. In the line up are the Telegraph and Del Sol String Quartets; a piano trio with Tom Stone, Elizabeth Dorman, and Amos Yang; and two members of Quartet San Francisco, Jeremy Cohen and Andres Vera, will play Latin American-infused duets. There are also jazz ensembles like Mads Tolling & the Mads Men, and the Ricardo Peixoto Trio. In years past, the lobby of the building served as a meeting area where one could find out more about the performers. This year, that forum will be moving to the website. Here are some highlights from last year’s SF Music Day:
When violinist Agnes Gottschewski has given her “Porch Concerts” while unable to play with her colleagues at the Pacific Symphony, she’s often playing pieces that have piano accompaniment. But they’re not pre-recorded audio. Rather, they’re being played by an app that uses Artificial Intelligence to listen to what she’s playing, and match the tempos and mood of her performance. The app is called “MyPianist” and it was programmed from the ground up by someone who would know about the nuances of performance: Finnish pianist Juho Pohjonen, who frequently plays at the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center in New York, as well as appearing with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and San Francisco Symphony. The repertoire that the software “knows” is growing – but in the meantime, there are plenty of pieces to be able to play on the porch.
Champion: An Opera in Jazz was composer and performer Terence Blanchard’s first opera, and it tells the true story of boxer Emile Griffith, who killed his opponent in the ring when they were competing for the welterweight title in 1962. Benny Paret had taunted him with homosexual slurs during the weigh-in, and was sent into a coma from which he never recovered. The boxing world would forgive Griffith for the death, but he knew that they would never accept his sexuality. Champion had a sold-out two week run in 2016, and SFJAZZ is streaming a performance from that run for its members beginning Wednesday. It was a co-production with Opera Parallèle, and in addition to the orchestra, included a jazz trio of bass, piano, and drums. The staging combines flashbacks to his childhood in St. Thomas, the Virgin Islands, as well as the boxing ring itself, with chorus members doubling as members of the press and photographers. OP Music Director Nicole Paiement will be hosting a ‘Ringside’ panel discussion about the work with musicians involved in it this Tuesday at 5pm.
With the tagline “Leave Your World in the Rearview Mirror,” San Diego Opera opens a production of La Boheme this Saturday with a new approach: they’re going to be performing the opera in the parking lot of the Pechanga Arena, with audience members remaining in their cars, watching live video on large screens, and hearing the audio through their car radio. It will feature soprano Ana Maria Martinez as Mimi, and Joshua Guerrero as Rodolfo, sung in Italian with supertitles. It’s the first time they’ve tried a production this way, and hope that it will allow them to continue to present live opera in a manner that’s safe for the audience, singers, and musicians. Given the many ways companies have been presenting archive videos online for people to experience at home, using this retro model of staying in the comfort and safety of one’s car is a first step toward communal live performance.
Someone has decided to use the texts of inconsequential emails to inspire new pieces of music. In the early days of the pandemic, when it looked like her adult choir at San Francisco’s Community Music Center wouldn’t be able to meet in person, Beth Wilmurt was trying to get about a hundred of them to join a Zoom sing-along session that would keep the group’s spirits up. In the process, she sent and received lots of short emails. She’s decided to turn them into little songs in a project she’s calling “Hello Chorus”. Wilmurt accompanies herself on the ukulele, and harmonize with herself. She’s releasing the songs over the month of October, sending an email with a link to the songs to those who subscribe (from her chorus, and beyond). She’s released about a dozen already. Here’s an example, called “Best Donna.”
The Los Angeles Opera had been releasing digital materials under the “At Home” name, but have decided to re-name it “On Now.” And their first production, in fact the first staged work through L.A. Opera since the stay-at-home era began, will be The Anonymous Lover, by Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges. It will be conducted by Music Director James Conlon, and be streamed online for free on November 14th. Bologne is known for being the first Black classical composer, but his works remain relatively unknown to a wide audience. James Conlon says The Anonymous Lover is “ripe for rediscovery,” and making it available for free online is a good means of introducing more people to his work. The plot is a comic romance about a secret admirer, and L.A. Opera says the staging will be socially distanced, and blend “both modern film and traditional opera staging.”
In a great example of “win-win,” the online recital series called “Piano Break” by the Ross McKee Foundation gives pianists in the Bay Area the opportunity to present professional recitals (helping the many who have lost income because of the pandemic), and it also is allowing audiences to become more familiar with works by Black composers. While the recitals are programmed by the performers, they’ve been encouraged to choose diverse works, and have assembled quite a broad repertoire. Jeffrey Ladeur, whose concert at the end of July launched the series, included a sonata by Pulitzer Prize-winner George Walker. He followed it with a Chopin Scherzo that opens on the same pitch that ends the Walker, letting the one flow out of the other (at 20:15 in the video below). There have been 11 recitals so far, and the next one, by Paul Schrage will be available Friday at 5 at their YouTube channel. You can explore the archive here.
Four graduate-level BIPOC (Black, indigenous, people of color) musicians have begun the Los Angeles Orchestra Fellowship, where they’ll spend three years being mentored by musicians of LACO, as well as mentoring younger players of the Inner City Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles. All while pursuing graduate studies at the USC Thornton School of Music on a full scholarship. There are two violists, and a cellist from Long Island, Atlanta, and Cincinnati, as well as horn player Malik Taylor, who’s from Los Angeles. He went from the music program at Bret Harte Middle School in South Central L.A. to being mentored by Bob Watt, former Assistant Principal Horn of the L.A. Philharmonic, the first African-American horn player to be hired by a major U.S. orchestra. The aim of the fellowship is to try to increase minority representation in American orchestras. A 2016 study showed that people of color made up less than five percent of the orchestral workforce.
One of the many perks that go with being a prize winner at the Irving M. Klein International String Competition is having the chance to play on the concert stages of partner organizations, as well as house concerts in seasons following your win. Having exposure to a wider audience, and getting more comfortable in a variety of performance settings. With the pandemic, those plans have had to be recalibrated. A series called “Third Thursdays,” from the California Music Center, which holds the competition, is making those house concerts virtual. This week the music is from cellist Dakota Cotugno, who won 2nd prize overall in 2019, as well as the prize for best Bach performance. The ticketed performance streams live at 5pm Pacific, although he’ll be playing from Ann Arbor, Michigan. Here’s some of his prize-winning performance from 2019.
Jenny Wong has come a long way to be Associate Artistic Director of Los Angeles Master Chorale. She grew up in Hong Kong, and always wishing for a life that was as much fun as going to choir every day, and she’s certainly found it. She was a Voice Performance major at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, before earning two graduate degrees in Choral Conducting at USC. Wong was a co-conductor for the opera Sweet Land by The Industry, which got rave reviews before it had to be cancelled because of COVID. (They were able to capture a performance without an audience with cameras, and that can be purchased for download). She’s conducted the Master Chorale in programs around the world, and now, in a recent video, brings 90 of them together virtually in an arrangement by Moses Hogan of the hymn ‘Abide with Me.’
The San Francisco Conservatory of Music has decided to livestream their entire season this year, with 68 free performances that can be watched from home, just this fall. Among the many student, faculty, and ensemble performances, there are eight that they’ve decided can bring an (e)Motion Boost to audiences, and so will have additional features for the viewers at home, like interview materials, and mini-documentaries. The first among these will be Thursday the 15th, when the Telegraph Quartet, which is on faculty (and includes three alumni) will be performing a late quartet by Beethoven, one by Erich Korngold, and one by contemporary British-based composer Eleanor Alberga. This season is the first with Edwin Outwater as music director of SFCM, and he’ll lead orchestral concerts in December and January. Also in December, there’s a program by voice and opera students of operas specifically written for radio in the 1930s.
A $25 million gift from Tina and Jerry Moss will give the Plaza at The Music Center more programs, a new summer festival, and a new name: The Jerry Moss Plaza. The gift also specifically aims to develop partnerships with community groups, and reflect the diversity of Los Angeles by helping BIPOC artists. It’s the largest ever received by The Music Center, and will ensure that programs like Dance DTLA can continue to be free and low-cost into the future. Jerry Moss was the co-founder (with Herb Alpert) of A&M Records in 1962. In a press release, Rachel S. Moore, president and CEO of The Music Center said: “The Mosses’ donation makes it possible for The Music Center team to expand and deepen our work as a cultural anchor institution and to be a model for transformational change – to advance programming that is not only geographically, economically and culturally representative of L.A. County, but that also resonates in the hearts and minds of all Angelenos and meaningfully impacts their lives.”
Necessity is the mother of invention, as they say, but sometimes frustration is too. When software engineer Mike Dickey’s son was unable to practice in person with his ensemble, the Ragazzi Boys Chorus, they were prevented from having workable rehearsals using Zoom or FaceTime because of the delay known as ‘latency.’ It’s not really a problem generally for conversations, but when you’re singing with anyone, or just trying to keep a steady rhythm going with another remote musician, the time it takes for your performance to get to them, and theirs to you, adds up and makes it impossible. There are some hardware solutions to address the problem (which we’ll be exploring soon) but Dickey came up with a software-based solution that reduces the latency to durations that are small enough (about 25-35 milliseconds) to allow for music to still feel together. It was developed in a partnership with Stanford’s Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics, or CCRMA, and the JackTrip Foundation, and is called “Virtual Studio”. Two of the Ragazzi choruses have put it through its initial tests, and their other ensembles are using it for their rehearsals this fall. Here’s a recording of a rehearsal with more than 80 singers using the technology.
If you search for Bach’s “Air on the G String” on YouTube, one of the most popular videos, with more than 4 million views is from the Bay Area’s early music group called Voices of Music. They’ve been producing high definition videos of performances on period instruments for years now, with hundreds of uploaded pieces on their channel. As a way to kick off their online season, co-directors Hanneke van Proosdij and David Tayler will offer a lecture (illustrated with recorded performances) called “From Manuscript to Filmed Performance.” Many of the works their ensemble plays haven’t ever had a modern printing, and require transcription from parts, checking for errors, and deciding on instrumentation that would be true to the historical practice. Meanwhile, at the other end of the technological spectrum, they’re recording performances in High Definition and even 4K Ultra High Definition. This is the first of a series of lectures and interviews from some of the stars of the early music world, and both individual tickets and season subscriptions are available.
The third SOUND/STAGE presentation from the Hollywood Bowl continues the “Power to the People” festival that was interrupted by the pandemic. The mini-performance concert video “pays tribute to Black voices and excellence” with two orchestral works from the Los Angeles Philharmonic led by Gustavo Dudamel, and a song from vocalist Andra Day. It’s bookended by anthems of sorts: on the 200th anniversary of the Star Spangled Banner, composer Jessie Montgomery was commissioned to imagine a new anthem for today, and Andra Day’s song “Rise Up” has become an unofficial anthem to the Black Lives Matter movement. In between them is a new smaller arrangement of a movement from William Grant Still’s Symphony No. 1, “Afro-American”
They’ll be on stage at Weill Hall at the Green Music Center, but Francesco Lecce-Chong and the Santa Rosa Symphony will be playing to cameras instead of a live audience. Yet he says that the technology, and multiple cameras will give virtual audiences an experience they could never have in the concert hall. Their SRS @ Home season launches this weekend, with the first pre-recorded performance live-streamed on Sunday at 3. It’ll be free when streamed live on their YouTube channel, and only available to watch again later (along with other special events including guest recitals) for season subscribers. The program includes Beethoven’s Symphony No. 1, and an eclectic mix of short works that highlight various sections of the orchestra, with no more than 32 players on stage at once, complete with masked conductor. Lecce-Chong says the virtual nature of the performances have the upside of introducing the ensemble to many more than would ever be able to hear them live in concert, as well as creating a time capsule, documenting fully performances by the group in this difficult season. He explained the series in this video:
Four orchestras from across California have banded together to commission a work called Alone Together from composer John Christopher Wineglass. The Pacific Symphony, Fresno Philharmonic, Monterey Symphony and San José Chamber Orchestra will eventually perform the piece, which takes as its inspiration the events and social issues that we’ve been living through during the past many months. The title refers to the solitude that quarantine and social distancing has made necessary, and the inability of the musicians to play in large ensembles together. The duration of the piece will be 8 minutes and 46 seconds, in honor of George Floyd, who died as police officers pinned him for that amount of time. Composer Wineglass and conductor Rei Hotoda released a statement announcing the commission, and included this message: “This work is allowing us to continue our work as performers – to never lose sight of just how important the arts are and have always been. By creating this work, we are providing a way to connect to one another which is so valuable and something most of us probably once took for granted. We may feel alone at this moment but we as four performing arts organizations are coming to move forward together as ONE.”
One Found Sound’s answer to not being able to perform in as intimate settings as they used to? They’ve planned the season with a couple of live performances that will be held at The Midway outdoor restaurant and performance space in San Francisco’s Dogpatch neighborhood. Those concerts, which have audiences of only a handful of people, are videotaped so they can be presented via video watch parties later, combining the music with live chat and social media interaction. Their next live concert program has performances on the 21st and 22nd of October, with a watch party in mid-November. That program will have string quartets by Beethoven, and two African-American women composers, Jessie Montgomery, and Florence Price. This season they’ve chosen their repertoire to include more composers of color. At their most recent livestream viewing party, they included “Umoja” by Valerie Coleman of Imani Winds:
Pacific Opera Project has announced three works for their fall season, which are all reflective of the current times: COVID fan Tutte, a double bill of one-act operas by Gluck featuring one called La Corona, and a revisiting and updating to present day of their take on La Boheme, called The Hipsters. Because of performance restrictions in L.A., they’re moving the performances to Ventura county’s Camarillo, where they’ll stage them in Drive-In format. The audio will be broadcast on FM radio, and a live video feed of the performance will be projected above the stage with supertitles. The first, a reworking of Mozart’s Cosi fan Tutte, is now set at a SoCal golf resort, with masquerading caddies and their quarantining girlfriends. There will be three performances, starting November 14th. The Gluck operas, which will be having their US staged premieres, will be November 20th and 21st, and The Hipsters will run the 10th, 12th, and 13th of December.
Conrad Tao, best known as a piano soloist, but also a composer (and accomplished violinist, too) joins Berkeley Symphony’s Music Director Joseph Young for “One on One with Conrad Tao” this Thursday at 5pm. He was the soloist at their season opener back in October of 2019, playing the Ravel G Major piano concerto. The conversation is part of the series Joseph Young & Friends. Here’s a video showing his work both as a composer and pianist.
Young pianists and singers are on display in the Emerging Artists series at Pasadena’s Boston Court, with concerts that are recorded live, and are available for a week following the premiere. This is the fourth year of the series, which pairs the young performers with more established mentors. There are three vocalists and two pianists this year, and each program includes a world premiere. The concerts are free (although you’ll need to register.) Here’s a conversation with soprano Angel Riley, the first of this season’s performers; composer Nick Benavides; and Mark Saltzman, the Director of the Emerging Artist program.
The latest venture from the composer of the operas Dead Man Walking and Moby-Dick: Jake Heggie has launched a podcast called “Sing Louder,” in which he talks informally with operatic stars about what led them to pursue that career, their experiences onstage, and backstage, and how they’re dealing with the fallout of the seasons cancelled by Covid-19. He describes it as “the high-wire act” of being an opera singer. Heggie has five singers lined up for the first season of the podcast: Sasha Cooke, J’Nai Bridges, Ana Maria Martinez, Ryan Speedo Green, and Brandon Jovanovich. Even in the best of times, the life of an opera singer is both challenging and uncertain. Having worked with so many singers professionally as his works have been staged, and as an accompanist, Jake Heggie has forged lasting friendships, and brings a unique vantage point to the conversations. The podcasts started being released at the beginning of this month. You can find the shows here, and wherever else you subscribe to podcasts.
Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra’s upcoming season is called “Close Quarters,” and will be presented virtually with eight programs livestreamed between November and February. They had practice in the style of presentation with their SummerFest concerts, but for the new season, there will be additional visuals: artwork in various media that was inspired by the musical programming. The concerts will be released on their YouTube channel, FaceBook page, and their website, and be available for free on demand after the original airdate. The first concert, on November 6th, is called “Baroque Crossings,” and will be led by harpsichordist Patricia Mabee.
The Peninsula Women’s Chorus is celebrating the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment with their first livestreamed virtual concert on October 3 at 4pm, called “Hands Upon the Plow.” That’s also the title of a work that PWC commissioned from composer Jocelyn Hagen as part of its Trailblazers Project. This piece honors Alice Paul, one of those who worked hardest to win women the right to vote in the United States. Also on the program are the other 2 commissioned works that celebrate pioneers in the pursuit of human rights: Harriet Tubman, and Miss Major Griffin-Gracy. There’s going to be a panel discussion after the performance, moderated by the ensemble’s Artistic Director, Martin Benvenuto.
When Vijay Gupta co-hosted the broadcast of From the Top which we’ll be airing this Sunday night, he didn’t know that it would be his last big public event before we all went into lockdown. It was recorded in early March at the Wallis Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills – where Gupta had played a recital of his own just two weeks earlier. The violinist and founder of the musical outreach program Street Symphony has worked with the show for a few years, and loves how the young musicians defy expectations: “What I’ve found in conversations with these young people is what incredible people they are, and their wide-ranging interests in trying to be kids, and trying to have lives where they’re having fun and they’re playing along with balancing this sort of complicated calling, that really involves a kind of sacrifice. Of their time and their effort to draw out a very real kind of transcendent love in their musicmaking.” This particular show had a number of very personal resonances for Gupta, who just two weeks before (and a day after his recital) had gotten married to composer Reena Esmail. A movement from a piano trio she wrote is on the program, played by Gupta, co-host Peter Dugan, and 17-year-old cellist Mei Hotta from Torrance. And if that weren’t enough, another of the young players has another connection. “I got to introduce an amazing young pianist named Olivia Larco,” Gupta explains. “And Olivia Larco’s dad, Michael Larco, was not only a colleague of mine in the LA Phil, but was actually one of my first ever violin teachers, who met me when I was Olivia’s age.” You can tune in to From the Top this Sunday at 7pm.
Stanford Live begins its Fall season this weekend with a streaming documentary featuring the St. Lawrence String Quartet, which has long been in residence at Stanford, and is one of the regular ensembles to have appeared on the stage of the Bing Concert Hall. The film includes a complete performance of a Haydn Quartet, as well as interviews with the players, and behind the scenes materials following how they’ve been dealing with the pandemic, and an entirely different way of rehearsing and playing this year. The performance they gave was on the stage of the Bing, masked and distanced, and the film will be available for streaming by Stanford students as well as Stanford Live subscribers. It’s the launch of the season that had to be reimagined for the uncertainty and concerns about safety of our current times. The film is called Stanford Live Presents: St. Lawrence String Quartet – Return to Haydn.
The PBS Great Performances series “Now Hear This” has returned, a musical travelogue hosted by violinist and conductor Scott Yoo. This second series explores the music of Schubert this week, with visits to New York, Quebec and Philadelphia. And next Friday, an episode premieres with the music of Mozart on center stage, with footage shot in and around San Luis Obispo, where Scott Yoo is Music Director of Festival Mozaic. Musicians from the festival will join pianist Stewart Goodyear, who learns the technique of conducting from the keyboard as he plays and improvises the solo part of a Mozart piano concerto. You can get a preview of the whole series here:
Pianist Lara Downes is celebrating National Voter Registration Day today with a musical collaboration. A performance of the song “Take Care Of This House” by Leonard Bernstein from the 1976 musical 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. She says despite it being still relevant today, the musical was a famous flop. “Like so many things that Bernstein did, it was just way ahead of its time. It’s this musical that’s really investigating and exploring the racial history of the White House, that problematic history, and it opens in the bicentennial year and nobody wants to hear about anything except fireworks.” Downes enlisted some of her friends and musical partners to contribute to the project, including Yo-Yo Ma, Anthony McGill, and Thomas Hampson. The message of the song, sung in the musical by Abigail Adams to a young black servant, is one of inclusion and pride: that the White House belongs to him too. “And it really is just this profound statement about the equality and the shared responsibility of civic duty, which I think is so important for us all to hear right now, because I think this is a time when people are feeling so overwhelmed. And the scope of things seems unmanageable. And then we think, well, I can’t do anything. I don’t have any power. And I think that this song is another reminder that, you know, our duty as citizens can be carried out in small ways.” You can check to make sure you’re registered to vote in California at this website and more information about registering nationwide here.
Berkeley Public Library will be beginning a new program on Friday the 25th, bringing together (virtually) guest storytellers and musicians for Reading is Instrumental. Included in the line-up as readers are Rita Moreno, Andy Samberg, Maxine Hong Kingston, and more, plus Berkeley Symphony Music Director Joseph Young and other members of the orchestra, accompanying. The events will be streamed live on the Berkeley Public Library’s Facebook page. They’ll read some classics (and yet-to-be classics) by Judy Cox, Carol Diggory Shields, Oge Mora, and more. They’ll start at 11am, starting next Friday.
It’s Erik Satie’s “Gymnopedie #1” for five… well, actually still for one, but rather than being played on the piano, Warren Hagerty, principal cellist with the Pacific Symphony takes on all the parts in this “quarantine clip” video they posted.
Hagerty took advantage of the down time of the pandemic to dive deeply into the Bach unaccompanied Cello Suites for what he called The Bach Project, learning and recording performances of all of the dance movements contained in the six suites. He had long wanted to have more of them “in his fingers”, as well as to keep in playing shape when there weren’t regular concerts to play. He joked that because the more difficult suites are toward the end, and he was recording them in numerical order, he had more time to learn the hardest ones – and a viewer can chart the passage of time by watching the progress of his beard’s growth. You can find the Bach Project videos here, but here’s the first one:
Left Coast Chamber Ensemble will be presenting its season opener next Monday night, with a mix of brand new, old, and “remixes” for small chamber ensemble. The concert, called Soft-Spoken (which is also the name of a world premiere trio by David Dominique featuring flutist Stacey Pelinka) will be livestreamed at 7:30 by LCCE. It’s free to watch, with donations encouraged, and RSVPs required, after which a link will be sent for the stream. There’s a recent flute and cello duet by Laurie San Martin called Zeppelin, trios by Belgian composer Albert Roussel and Beethoven, as well as two “remixes” by composer and violist Kurt Rohde. Serving as inspiration for those works were pieces by Joni Mitchell, and Hildegard von Bingen. The Left Coast Chamber Ensemble had a Season Kick-Off Party last month, which included this performance by violinist and Artistic Director Anna Presler and pianist Eric Zivian playing the first Violin Sonata by Johannes Brahms.
The Artistic Director of the Los Angeles Master Chorale, Grant Gershon, is doing double duty in this video he and his wife, soprano Elissa Johnston recently released. In an arrangement of Morten Lauridsen’s tranquil “Sure On This Shining Night,” Gershon accompanies the both of them as they sing. Lauridsen, who has taught at USC’s Thornton School of Music for more than four decades, also served as composer in residence for the Master Chorale from 1994-2001.
At its annual festival in the summer, West Edge Opera in the Bay Area has staged works that span centuries and geography – In 2019, the three operas presented were a non-binary retelling of Gluck’s Orpheus and Eurydice, Kurt Weill’s Threepenny Opera, and 2016’s Breaking the Waves by Missy Mazzoli. They also have had a winter program called “Snapshot” that allows audiences to see short works that are either just finished, or might even still be in progress. They’ve described their mission as to “look at the art form through a new lens, re-imagining tradition to connect to a modern audience.” Given the pandemic, and no live performances, they’re soon going to be launching another program, also with a photography-inspired name: Aperture. It is going to be a member-supported commissioning contest for composers and librettists that will give subscribers the opportunity to have updates as the works are being created. The final chosen project will receive a $60,000 commission toward a live concert performance of the work, once its safe to stage it.
Katherine Pracht, who will star in West Edge Opera’s production of Kevin Puts’ opera Elizabeth Cree in 2021. (Photo by Cory Weaver)
The Santa Rosa Symphony’s Music Director, Francesco Lecce-Chong has announced a season he says he wouldn’t have been able to imagine just a few months ago: “SRS @ Home.” There are three concerts that will be livestreamed in October, November and December, with about 30 musicians socially distanced on the stage of Weill Hall at the Green Music Center. They’ll be viewable for free online as they happen, and each program includes an early Beethoven symphony, as well as repertoire that will show off members of the sections of the orchestra. There are additional recitals that will be available live to subscribers, who will also be able to watch concerts after their initial stream. In his introduction to the season, Lecce-Chong says it was only through trust, good will, work, and “dreaming big” that this season was able to take shape so quickly.
This performance of Carl Vine’s “Threnody” played by Wayne Yang was recently posted by USC’s Thornton School of Music as one of the “Live from Somewhere” series of videos. It’s a piece that was originally written in response to the AIDS crisis and the search for treatment. Yang is currently a graduate student in their Arts Leadership program, and has been playing piano since he was a child. “Thankfully, the piano repertoire is huge, and despite my limitations, I am able to choose pieces that fit my ability,” he says. “In some cases, I do some tiny editing and omit a few notes to make the pieces possible while preserving their musical integrity. I rely on the horizontal distance to move my left arm around and my memory for the four fingers that I use with my right hand.” He began learning this particular work pre-COVID era, after hearing a classmate play it, and finds it particularly relevant and meaningful now. “Especially during this pandemic, playing the piano has been a valuable outlet for expression and musical communication… I am grateful for the support from my professor, piano studio mates and colleagues, and I do the same with supporting them. I believe the one thing we can take away from this pandemic, and the reason I dedicated my “Threnody” performance to the victims of COVID-19 and their families, is to genuinely help and support one another in navigating through the similar life challenges that we face.”
With a message that young women can indeed change the world, the ensemble iSing Silicon Valley has just released its first album, called “Here I Stand.” The title track has a text by the Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai, who has been an activist for the cause of the education of girls in her home country of Pakistan and throughout the world. The album includes several world premieres and commissions, including one by Adam Schoenberg called “Never Shall I Forget,” inspired by Elie Wiesel’s memoir Night, and Daniel Elder’s “365,” which is about gun violence. There are also works by Debussy, Ola Gjeilo, Eriks Esenvalds, and more. There are 200 or so singers who make up the multiple choirs of iSing Silicon Valley. It’s a choir that was founded less than ten years ago, but it’s already performed and toured extensively, and collaborated with artists like Meredith Monk and the choral ensembles Voces8 and Cappella SF.
LACO SummerFest has come to an end, with a concert of music by a young Gioachino Rossini for strings – specifically, his String Sonata No. 3 in C Major, and No. 6 in D Major. Written for two violinists, cello and double bass when Rossini was only 12 years old, they show the humor and elegance that the composer would later put into his operas. The final concert, recorded with the players masked and separated, was led by Principal Bass of LACO, David Grossman, with violinists Carrie Kennedy, Joel Pargman, and cellist Andrew Shulman. This performance, (with a solo bass jazzy rendition of Fats Waller’s “Honeysuckle Rose” for an encore) brings to a close the series, but they all remain viewable through LACO’s website and their YouTube channel.
Simone Dinnerstein had a familiar, but unexpected recording studio for her most recent album, called “A Character of Quiet.” She recorded it in her own home, with the producer of her studio albums, but also in the company of her husband, son, dog, and upstairs neighbors. They recorded in the evening to minimize traffic sounds from the street outside, which was also a break from tradition. At first, Dinnerstein says, she couldn’t bring herself to play the piano, and instead went for long walks with her family. “During that time when I was recording it, I had started reading poetry. And I became really entranced by Wordsworth’s poem ‘The Prelude’ which is this huge, autobiographical poem. And in this particular passage, he’s talking about getting away from society, basically. And it just really spoke to me. That line, ‘a character of quiet’ is in there. And I just thought, ‘That is this music.’” The repertoire is three etudes by Philip Glass, and a Schubert Sonata. “There’s a very strong commonality between Schubert and Glass. Their music has a sort of ascetic quality to it. It’s pared down, both of them use repetition in a really interesting way, they have a very subtle use of harmony. And their harmonic changes are often simply shifting one note within a harmony to create a new color. And they both have a sense of timelessness in them. The music seems to circle back on itself constantly.”
Getting a practical souvenir out of performances, here’s a piece of music written for 1-3 “sewists.” At the end of which, each winds up with a new face mask. It’s a piece by Adrianne Pope, commissioned by the contemporary music ensemble called Wild Up. Pope says that she’d always been handy with a sewing machine, finding it both a productive and therapeutic hobby. In the early days of the pandemic, she was making masks, keenly aware of the unusual silence in her otherwise normally loud neighborhood of Los Angeles. It made her pay attention to the sound of her machine, which was often the loudest sound she was hearing. “I realized something I really loved about it was how many sounds I could control, but then how much of it was also out of my control. And then I started thinking about how every machine is different and everyone performing this piece, the same written piece, would perform it completely differently.” The score for the piece is a set of instructions which include an actual pattern for the mask, with specific ways and tempos the sewists are to synchronize their mask-making. Pope says the recording below was made as an instruction video as well as a virtual performance, and the instructions can be found at the Wild Up website. She also says her Aperture Duo recently commissioned some pieces which could be performed over Zoom or Skype.
The experience of seeing a concert as part of a live audience near musicians is something many of us have been missing dearly these past several months. The San Francisco Symphony has been offering a solution that brings the audience to performer ratio down as far as it can go. In a series they’re calling 1:1 (One to One), there’s only one player, and one audience member, outside, and at a safe distance. It’s bringing the experience back for individuals. Symphony donors, subscribers, volunteers, partners and teachers have been making up the pool of invitees, but there’s also a lottery system online at their website, where members of the general public can apply. The performances (about six in a day) are taking place one day a week now, although the Symphony is planning on increasing the frequency, and also finding other locations around San Francisco that are safe and conducive to the intimate solo recitals. They describe the program as “providing the bliss of a live music experience in a safe, reimagined way.”
Less than a year earlier, Berkeley Symphony’s Music Director Joseph Young wasn’t expecting to be standing on the podium at Zellerbach Hall starting his first season in the fall of 2019. But in a story right out of Hollywood, he got a call in January asking if he could drop what he was doing (conducting an opera rehearsal at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore) and substitute at a concert in just a few days. The scheduled conductor was ill, and Young had only two days to prepare for a program that included a world premiere. With an enthusiastic reception from both players and the audience, by April, it was announced that he would be their next Music Director. On the program that launched his first season was Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, and as part of the Downtown Berkeley Summer Online Arts Festival, he introduces the orchestra, their music education outreach program, and that Beethoven performance.
Taking inspiration from the film Inception, and its soundtrack by Hans Zimmer, along with the music of Georg Philipp Telemann, Barry Perkins, the Principal Trumpet of the Pacific Symphony offers “Inception Reflection.” It’s a short video that he wrote and produced, which also features the Principal Trumpet of the Pittsburgh Symphony, Micah Wilkinson. After a dramatic introductory scene reminiscent of Inception between Perkins and his alter-ego, the music begins and expands to include both players and their doppelgangers. Perkins has appeared on the scores of dozens of films including several in the Star Wars franchise.
It’s not every day you get to play your dream instrument – unless you happen to be Matthew Linaman, who was actually able to get his, despite a daunting price tag. He graduated from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music in 2013, and now teaches there in the Pre-College program where he got his start. After graduating, he was working as a barista at a coffee bar when he got a call from his teacher, suggesting he try playing a particular cello that was for sale. It had a beautiful tone, and Linaman fell in love with it immediately, but it was going to cost $125,000. He tried to crowdfund it, raising about ten thousand dollars in a month, but there was still a long way to go. Ultimately, one of his regular customers offered to loan him what he needed, and he was able to continue making music with the instrument he’d wanted since he first played it. Here he is giving a TedX talk about the experience:
And here’s his 8-part arrangement of the song “Rain” by Ben Platt:
Here’s a sneak peak of the upcoming SOUND/STAGE concert series of performances at the Hollywood Bowl (and also The Ford) that were filmed this summer, and will be streaming starting in September. Six of the nine concerts feature the Los Angeles Philharmonic, led by Music Director Gustavo Dudamel, with the players taking full advantage of the spaciousness of the stage, and wearing masks. The concerts will be streamed for free (although donations are encouraged) and run from September 25th through November 9th. Soloists J’Nai Bridges and Jean-Yves Thibaudet will join the L.A. Phil, and there’s a concert that continues the Power to the People! festival that was interrupted by Covid-19. There are also non-classical performances by Andra Day, Chicano Batman, and Kamasi Washington, who, with an ensemble plays his original jazz score to the documentary based on Michelle Obama’s memoir Becoming.
With headliners from their originally planned schedules, plus a few additions, Cal Performances announced this week that they would be presenting a 15-episode run of full-length concerts and theater works called “Cal Performances at Home” running from October to mid-January. Artists like Yo-Yo Ma, Leif-Ove Andsnes, Tessa Lark and others have all specifically recorded for this series, which will be ticketed for individuals, couples or households. There will be free additional artist talks, interviews and lectures that accompany the programming, as well as educational content for K-12 teachers and students. When the performances premiere, Cal Performances will host watch parties with live chats available. There’s also a special New Year’s Eve Musical Celebration. The series will end in mid-January with a recital by soprano Julia Bullock, with art songs, contemporary works, and selections from jazz and blues.
Making use of the acoustics of St. Joseph’s Church, composer Mason Bates has begun to release a series of videos called Mercury Soul: Cathedral – Meditative Classical Music & Electronica. He’s wearing his other, turntablist hat, as “DJ Masonic,” providing a score that links together other pieces of older music from other traditions. In the first episode, he’s joined by a solo pianist with Debussy, a string quartet, and a flute and percussion duo playing a traditional tune from India. Mercury Soul is an organization that has brought classical music into dance clubs, and electronica into classical venues. In the second film, a solo cellist playing Bach is joined by a dancer, there’s more solo Bach for violin, and a work for brass by Dale Trumbore. Bates has frequently incorporated either the sounds or sensibilities of his DJ alter-ego into his symphonic and chamber works, and here he’s curating and linking music from time and places as varied as Iceland and China, and composers like Gesualdo and Massenet.
Throughout the summer, the Colburn School has been hosting weekly lunchtime concerts they’re calling “A Serving of Beethoven,” and the most recent one with the Calidore Quartet finishes up their cycle of his string quartets with his middle period Op. 59 No. 3. Faculty hosts Scott St. John and Kristi Brown-Montesano have a chat with violinist Ryan Meehan before they play a performance that was recorded by the quartet from last October. The Calidore players have had a few socially distanced performances and live-streamed concerts recently, but have taken advantage of the down time to take on learning new repertoire and plan a recording project of all 16 of the Beethoven quartets. For their part, now that they’ve celebrated the upcoming 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth with this block of masterworks, Colburn is going to continue the lunchtime series with his sonatas for piano and violin.
The San Francisco International Piano Festival has begun, and runs through the 30th, with what they’re calling “A Season of Reflection.” There will be a combination of livestreamed concerts and “retrospective performances” from previous years. Like the inaugural festival, this one began with a “Schubertiad” – a celebration of the music of Schubert, both for piano and voice, with festival founder and Artistic Director Jeffrey LaDeur playing the sprawling G Major piano sonata, with lieder between the movements, joined by mezzo-soprano Kindra Scharich. (There are going to be several concerts with other instruments besides the piano, despite the festival’s name.) “2020 will be a different kind of celebration,” LaDeur says. ”A more sober, reflective acknowledgment of this confusing and painful moment in our world, and of the essential and sustaining life force that music is for us at this time.” You can watch the concert here.
For the past 35 years, the California Music Center has held the annual Irving R. Klein International String Competition, celebrating young performers and offering both prizes and career and performance opportunities. This summer was the first time the competition took place without an in-person audience. In a just-launched series of compilation recitals called the Klein@Home Hour, recent participants and winners play in footage from when they competed. Since one of the perks of a win was having the opportunity to appear on concert stages and at house concerts, the CMC is also going to be starting a ticketed series of streamed recitals in September, called ‘Third Thursdays’ that will give audiences a chance to have conversations with the artists virtually after the concerts. Here’s the first of the Klein@Home Hour programs, called ‘Summer Idyll.’
A glimpse inside the creative process – when times are difficult. L.A.-based composer Julia Adolphe has been recording a video series she’s calling LooseLeaf NoteBook, which explores some of the issues that creative people (both professional and amateur) are facing now because of the pandemic. She says taking care of one’s mental and creative health can be a challenge, especially at a time when our instinct is making us choose between fight/flight or freeze. Adolphe discusses her own experience, including how she’s changed her routine because of the way she’s felt at various times of the day. Ordinarily, she says, she would take advantage of the stillness and solitude of the night to write music, but in the past few months she found she was experiencing more anxiety and unease then, so has begun waking up early to compose when she feels safer and more in control. While the episodes in the beginning were just a few minutes long, she’s recently had some longer conversations with guests in the musical world.
The San Francisco Symphony and San Francisco Conservatory of Music have teamed to create the Emerging Black Composers Project, which will commission works from ten early-career Black American composers. Each composer selected will receive $15,000, as well as workshops and performances by either the Symphony or Conservatory orchestras. They’ll also have the opportunity to be mentored by conductors Michael Morgan, Edwin Outwater, and conductor-composer Esa-Pekka Salonen. The call for applications is open through the end of the calendar year, and the first commissioned piece is scheduled to have its world premiere during the 2021-22 season. David Stull, the President of SFCM, says they’re trying to “elevate Black voices and expand the American canon. When Black talent is nurtured, we strengthen our culture of excellence, and we look forward to deepening the impact of The Emerging Black Composers Project through this partnership with San Francisco Symphony.” And Mark Hanson, CEO of the Symphony says: “Our industry has a long history of excluding Black artists due to systemic racism, and that the work of Black composers often does not receive the exposure or prominence it deserves. We believe that The Emerging Black Composers Project is a small step towards reducing some of the barriers these talented artists unjustly face in our field, and we look forward to performing and promoting these new works in future SF Symphony seasons.”
Putting a modern Californian spin on some Mozart librettos… At “Salastina’s Happy Hour” Tuesday from 6 to 7, the guest will be Vid Guerrerio, who has set about to bring a trio of Mozart operas into greater relevance (while leaving the music untouched) by completely rehauling the text. Through its Off Grand initiative, LA Opera presented ¡Figaro! (90210) in its 2014/15 season. The New York Times called the adaptation “audacious and entertaining,” making the multicultural plot in English and Spanglish revolve around undocumented immigrants and the world of real estate in Beverly Hills. There was to be a premiere of Guerrerio’s OC fan tutte this summer, bringing the old story of Cosi fan tutte – with couples testing each other’s fidelity – into the era of ‘catfishing’ and Tinder, set in Orange County. He’s also working on a Don Giovanni libretto called Don Jovy, with the lothario title character now an aging rock star, living on the Sunset Strip. In conversation with KUSC’s Brian Lauritzen on the Zoom “Happy Hour,” he’ll discuss the thinking behind the adaptations, as well as the nerve required to take an eraser to Lorenzo Da Ponte’s libretti.
Take this musical quiz with members of the San Francisco Chamber Orchestra! Music director Benjamin Simon hosts this edition of “Name That Classical Tune” with some of the all-star performers from the ensemble, as they try to guess famous melodies hearing the fewest notes. The “one-man orchestra” Keisuke Nakagoshi ends up not having to play that many before the right answer bell is rung. It’s part of a series of video podcasts he’s released under the umbrella name of “The Simon Says Show,” which also includes interviews with musicians, and some educational features built around a thematic idea. Education and fun have always been woven into the free-admission mainstage concerts of the SFCO, and Simon, a violist himself, is always on the hunt for viola jokes he’s never heard before.
The city of San Francisco is the backdrop for a Hitchcock-inspired ballet called “Dance of Dreams” that San Francisco Ballet releases Thursday. Four choreographers were involved in the project (Justin Peck, Dwight Rhoden, Janie Taylor, and Christopher Wheeldon) – five if you count the director and filmmaker Benjamin Millepied, who is the Artistic Director of L.A. Dance Project. The short film is set to the “Scene d’Amour” music by Bernard Herrmann from the movie Vertigo, and takes its locations from key moments in the Hitchcock classic, including the Palace of Fine Arts and the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. The score was played by more than 60 members of the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra, recorded remotely at their homes. “Dance of Dreams,” Millepied explains, “is a moment of dancing, a moment of reconnecting dancers to the city and the thing they love most.”
A re-casting of Mozart in the rhythms of a Brazilian carnival… This “In a Minute” arrangement of Mozart’s ‘Rondo alla Turca’ movement from his piano sonata in A Major takes the idea of exoticism one step further. It was all the rage in Mozart’s day to bring some of the new sounds that they heard played by the Turkish military bands known as Janissaries and incorporate them into classical works. They had bass drums, cymbals and triangles – you can hear them in the overture to “The Abduction from the Seraglio”. In this “Samba alla Turca” arrangement by Philip R. Buttall, played by Joanne Pearce-Martin and Gavin Martin, the familiar melody is given a Brazilian flair. It’s introduced by MUSE/IQUE Artistic Director Rachael Worby, and accompanied in movement by dancer Desi Jévon.
Los Angeles Master Chorale’s newest album is a very personal one, with music that was inspired by the death of a dear friend. Composer Eric Whitacre leads the ensemble in The Sacred Veil. It’s a 12-movement work – the lyrics, by Charles Anthony Silvestri and Whitacre, tell the story of love, illness, and loss, surrounding the death of Silvestri’s wife Julie from ovarian cancer in 2005. The piece had its premiere in 2019 at Walt Disney Concert Hall, and the full recording is being released at the end of the month on Signum Classics. In this introductory video to the piece that was posted on their Facebook page, alto Sarah Lynch explains how many of the singers have dealt with cancer, or lost loved ones to the disease, which made the music all the more powerful. “But this is also how we as artists are so lucky,” Lynch says. “Rehearsing and performing this piece gave me a new outlet for my grief, and one that I didn’t know I needed. There’s something powerful about artists on a project drawing from their own personal experiences, and committing to the work, even when it’s hard. This epitomizes the power and the necessity of the arts.”
Since all the cancellations began, Cal Performances has been regularly curating a video playlist called ‘Now More Than Ever’ – to highlight musicians and artists whose work can continue to inspire us from the safety of our homes. Recently they enlisted the help of a guest curator: cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason, who performed a recital with his sister, pianist Isata, at Zellerbach Hall in December, at the beginning of a tour of the US. As an added bonus, in an introductory video, they play Saint-Saens’ “The Swan” from Carnival of the Animals. His choices for the videos in the playlist include several Bach selections (a string trio arrangement of the Goldberg Variations, and Yehudi Menuhin playing the famous “Air” from the Orchestral Suite no. 3 with the Symphony Orchestra of Hollywood, and cellist Mstislav Rostropovich discussing – not playing – one of the unaccompanied cello suites). But there’s also a concert recording of Bob Marley playing “Redemption Song.” The Jamaican singer made an appearance on Sheku Kanneh-Mason’s 2018 album “Inspiration” in an arrangement of the song “No Woman, No Cry.”
The Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music wraps up its 58th season (and first virtual one) this weekend in Santa Cruz. On Saturday morning, there’s a panel with orchestra members and a live Q+A, and in the afternoon, a recital with Sasha Cooke and composer/pianist Jake Heggie. A throughline in the selections this year is a celebration of strong and women who have shaped our history. Last weekend in the concert “Evolving II” they presented a performance from last year of the premiere of Kristin Kuster’s piece inspired by United States Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, called When There Are Nine (her response to the question “When will there be enough women on the Supreme Court?”). Mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton was joined by the Cabrillo Festival Orchestra and the eight-member vocal ensemble Roomful of Teeth. This weekend, there’s a panel about the fight for women’s suffrage and the continuing struggle for voting rights in the morning, and at 5:00, the orchestral world premiere of The Battle for the Ballot by Stacy Garrop, celebrating one hundred years since the passage of the 19th Amendment that allowed women to vote. Sixty members of the Cabrillo Festival Orchestra recorded their parts from their homes around the world for the occasion.
Pianist Lara Downes has had a busy summer, even if it hasn’t involved much travel. Just before people began staying home, she had released a studio album called Some of These Days, of arrangements of freedom songs and spirituals. In May, she had an NPR ‘Tiny Desk’ Concert which she recorded at her home. And perhaps inspired by that effort, she’s just released an album called The Bedtime Sessions, of lullabies and songs to inspire sleep. She calls it “a balm for our souls during a time of global disruption.” The works are by composers as different as Robert Schumann and Billy Joel, with tunes by jazz saxophonist Benny Golson, and a few written by composers especially for this project. She says, “many of us are experiencing intense anxiety, our night disrupted by insomnia and troubled dreams. These lullabies are for listeners of all ages, to help us relax and find peace in sleep.”
Napa Valley’s Music in the Vineyards chamber music festival is celebrating its 26th season with a dozen free virtual performances over the next three weeks. They’ll be introduced from the wineries where they would have taken place, by festival co-artistic directors Michael Adams and Daria Tedeschi Adams. The videos will stream for the first time at the scheduled start of the concerts, and remain viewable on their website and YouTube channel through the end of August. The programming will include self-filmed solo and duet works (there are several couples quarantining together) as well as concert videos of ensembles (the Pacifica, Escher, Thalea, and Maxwell String Quartets) recorded before the COVID era. Included with the concert materials are interview segments with musicians and the winemakers. The “performances” are scheduled for Wednesday and Friday at 7:30pm, and Saturday and Sunday at 5pm, from August 5th through the 23rd.
Despite having to postpone their full 50th anniversary season until next summer, the San Luis Obispo-based Festival Mozaic is carrying on its tradition of both performance and education, with this masked sextet by Brahms, and bite-sized lessons about the piece and its context. In a series of ‘Notable Encounter’ videos, violinist and Festival Mozaic music director Scott Yoo and the players demonstrate the difference having an ‘extra’ cello and viola makes, compared with the traditional quartet, saying it’s like going from a sedan to an SUV. He also tells of the hidden musical cryptogram in a recurring theme – based on the name of Brahms’ one-time fiancée, Agathe. They’ve also given a quintet by Antonin Dvorak a similar performance and explanation – which features an added double bass. The performances took place in the barns of vineyards just outside San Luis Obispo.
Music@Menlo is calling this their “Intermezzo” season – a break in the usual activity, that comes between musical performances. But they’re offering on their website through the 8th of August a series of live and archival performances, masterclasses and interviews. They recently spoke with Anthony McGill, who’s the Principal clarinet at the New York Philharmonic. He’s become more widely known this summer for the viral video he made which started the “Take Two Knees for Justice” campaign. In it, he plays the tune to “America the Beautiful”, with notes changed to bring it into a minor key. He ends the video by kneeling, with his clarinet behind his back. McGill has been a long-time returning performer at Music@Menlo, actually playing at the pilot one-day festival they held in 2002, before they officially launched. In conversation with Patrick Castillo, their Director of Audience Engagement, McGill says he’s been inspired by what we can all do, and how powerful it can be when we use our art and musical voice to make change in the world. After their conversation, there’s a 2014 performance of the Rondo from Beethoven’s Quintet for Piano and Winds.
Looking back on the recently finished season from Music Academy of the West, (or as they were calling it this year, MARLI, for Music Academy Remote Learning Institute) one of the highlights was this virtual performance of Aaron Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man, as played by the Music Academy Brass Ensemble with faculty artist, trumpeter Paul Merkelo. The brass and percussion standard is played in a variety of locales, from a living room couch crowded with siblings, to a Palos Verdes vista overlooking the Pacific Ocean, to a balcony with the backdrop of the skyline of Sao Paulo, Brazil.
The musical culture of a community is made up of all of the history and traditions that got us to where we are, so the San Francisco Symphony is releasing a new four-part video series and podcast called “Currents” which looks at some of those other musical streams. Conductor Michael Morgan hosts the first installment, which includes a look at the Chinese traditional lute-like instrument called the pipa, and features soloist Shenshen Zhang playing a chamber work by Bright Sheng with musicians from the San Francisco Symphony. “We live in a very diverse America,” Morgan says, “getting more diverse all the time, and our repertory has to get more diverse right along with it, so we remain a vital part of the musical life of our cities. A city’s orchestra sits in the middle of all of these streams, all of these currents of music, and should actually be a place where all of them feel at home.” Future episodes will look at the contributions of jazz, Mexican music, and Hip Hop to our rich musical culture.
Attention fans of Gilbert & Sullivan – Lamplighters Music Theatre is going digital, with a new venture called LMT Multimedia. Since they aren’t able to perform as they’ve done before live audiences for 68 years, they’re going to be using their YouTube channel, Facebook page, and new Patreon site to get both new and archival materials to the public. As they say, quoting (at least the start of) a well-turned phrase by W. S. Gilbert from The Gondoliers, “Life’s a pudding full of plums, but we make a darn good plum pudding.”
It was 10 years ago that LA Opera staged its first-ever Ring Cycle – the sprawling four-opera saga by Wagner that starts with Das Rheingold and winds its way to Götterdämmerung (The Twilight of the Gods). To celebrate that anniversary, they’re going to have an epic audio-streaming “RING-a-Thon” Saturday morning, beginning at 8:00, with Die Walküre starting at 11, Siegfried at 3, and Götterdämmerung at 7. You can listen through LA Opera’s Facebook channel or at their website. Music Director James Conlon conducted the 15-hour-long tale: “The 2010 production of Wagner’s full Der Ring des Nibelungen represented a major milestone in the still relatively short existence of LA Opera, as Los Angeles had never seen an indigenous production. Giving birth to this mammoth four-opera cycle is a major undertaking that challenges and defines an opera company. We set out to forge a heroic sword as Siegfried does, and carry it through a rite of passage and into a new era of maturity.” He offers further “Reflections on the Ring” on his podcast.
James Conlon | Photo by Dan Steinberg
One of Tchaikovsky’s best-loved ballets goes inside, with dancers’ bathtubs substituting for the titular Swan Lake… In a new video project commissioned by the BBC, 27 dancers from around the world (including San Francisco Ballet principal dancer Benjamin Freemantle) danced to choreography by Corey Baker for a “Culture in Quarantine” project. The three-minute “Swan Lake Bath Ballet” video features varying degrees of costumes, feathers, candles, and bathtub safety. The choreographer described the process of working with the dancers as being “like hanging a picture blindfolded, a mile away.”
Saxophone players have always loved Ravel’s Bolero, since it’s one of the major works in the orchestral repertoire that includes them. But Patrick Posey has managed to make an arrangement of the piece for only his instrument. Or rather, seven different saxophones, which he plays in the traditional way, as well as providing the snare drum ostinato by tapping the keys percussively. The Los Angeles-based Posey plays a total of 27 different parts in this arrangement, pulling from his collection of (as he describes it) “WAY too many saxophones.”
Each week, Oakland Symphony is releasing a featured performance of a piece of music they’ve played in concert, for something they’re calling rePAST (they make the recordings available at 6:00 on Fridays). The current offering is from a performance that they gave in March of last year by composer Louise Farrenc, who was famous in her time – among her fans were Hector Berlioz and Robert Schumann – but isn’t widely known today. In addition to her composing, she was also a professor at the Paris Conservatory for decades, and the only woman to hold that post in the 19th Century. Music Director and Conductor Michael Morgan programmed her on the same concert as violinist/composer Jessie Montgomery, saying “I am always happy when we have great women composers on our season.”
Photo Courtesy of Oakland Symphony
Composer and conductor Eric Whitacre’s Virtual Choir 6 has been released, with more than 17,500 singers from 129 countries performing a new work he wrote for our times, called “Sing Gently.” He says when the full scope of the pandemic became clear back in March, he was in shock and disbelief. “Not only because of everything that was going on and the very real threat of the virus itself, but because my life is spent working with singers – and so to suddenly have us all be super spreaders… Our artform itself suddenly was something dangerous.” The work he wrote suggests that together (if only virtually) “If we treat each other with compassion and empathy, then it’s the best way forward.” In addition to releasing the video, yesterday Whitacre received the prestigious Richard D. Colburn Award from the Colburn School, which was one of the partners involved in supporting the project.
The Valley of the Moon Music Festival kicks off this weekend, with concerts at 4:00 on Saturday and Sunday (and the following two weekends) which will be livestreamed on their website. There’s at least one work by Beethoven on each of the programs, in an early celebration of his 250th birthday. (Artistic co-Director Eric Zivian has already been working his way through all 32 of the Beethoven sonatas on the fortepiano, and releasing those performance videos as well). The concerts had to be scaled back a bit because of the pandemic, but they’ll still be introduced by their lecturers, and the reduced forces “will carry the spirit of the annual festival until all of our participating artists can join us live in 2021.” And this Sunday night at 8, you can hear Artistic Directors Tanya Tomkins and Eric Zivian play a Beethoven Cello Sonata on KDFC’s Bay Area Mix.
Another festival that would have been getting underway this weekend, and instead has ‘gone virtual’ is Music@Menlo, which is calling its offering Intermezzo, which they describe this way: “Intermezzo, the Italian term for music appearing between larger parts of a performance, describes the virtual bridge we have curated for our listeners to cross and enjoy between now and Haydn Connections next summer. The events will be streamed at their website and Facebook page. While some of the performances will be recorded from previous years, on Sunday afternoon at 5pm, pianist Gilles Vonsattel will play a performance of Debussy’s Images, and then be answering audience questions.
Picture of Anthony McGill by Geoff Sheil
A fond farewell performance from the graduating senior class of the Ragazzi Boys Chorus Young Men’s Ensemble – they chose for their final (virtual) performance together the arrangement of “Shenandoah” by James Erb, which they’d first sung as freshmen four years ago. A few of the other Ragazzi ensembles, singers from age 5 to 18 also prepared videos, knowing they’d be missing their Spring concerts. (You can find them at their YouTube channel) The Grammy-Award winning chorus is based in Redwood City, and since 1987 has been training boy singers in both treble and changed-voice repertoire.
Puccini’s Madama Butterfly tells the story of a tragic love story of an American naval officer and a young Japanese girl – but in the world of the opera as it’s always been performed, they sing to each other in Italian. Several years ago, Josh Shaw, artistic director of Pacific Opera Project, asked himself what might happen dramatically if the lovers had the linguistic barrier that they would have faced if they were real people. He and Eiki Isomura (artistic director of Houston’s Opera in the Heights) set about translating the work so that the American characters would sing in English, and the Japanese characters would sing in Japanese. And wanting to avoid the long tradition of ‘yellowface’ that has accompanied this particular work, they set about casting the show with all of the Japanese roles and chorus sung by Japanese-American performers. It had its debut in 2019, and Wednesday evening at 5pm, Pacific Opera Project is hosting a ‘Live Watch Party’.
A trio of principal players from the Pacific Symphony who happen to be neighbors began playing backyard and driveway concerts as the ensemble they call Long Beach Block by Block. With Ben Smolen on flute, bassist Michael Franz, and violist Meredith Crawford, they began with repertoire originally for that combination, then began to rearrange other works, and also to create their own arrangements. As part of the Pacific Symphony’s “Quarantine Clip” series, they released this version of the Beatles’ “Blackbird,” with ample distance between them. Other ‘LB Block x Block’ performances feature additional players: violinist Christine Frank, Lelie Resnick on English horn, and bass clarinet Joshua Ranz. They got together in a Zoom chat and described how they came into being.
Opera San Jose is using technology to help keep the music playing – they’ve just inaugurated their Fred Heiman Digital Media Studio, which can serve as both a rehearsal and chamber performance space, and be streamed to remote audiences. The first such concert, a recital of Schumann’s Dichterliebe (“A Poet’s Love”) with Resident Artists baritone Eugene Brancoveanu, and conductor/pianist Christopher James Ray had its premiere over the weekend, and can still be streamed. Tickets range from 15 to 50 dollars per household. General Director Khori Dastoor says, “With this new space we will be able to safely perform smaller scale operas with theatrical lighting, sets, and appropriate musical accompaniment, utilizing state-of-the-art cameras and audio equipment to create works that can be enjoyed by at-home audiences. This thrilling new venture will enable us to continue our work as an incubator for emerging artists and producer of accessible, world-class operatic performances, while maintaining mitigation efforts to avoid the spread of COVID-19.”
Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra is launching its first summer festival this weekend, with five 30-minute concerts released every other Saturday evening through September 5th. For LACO SummerFest performances, the musicians will be playing together, at a safe distance, without an audience, filmed at Zipper Hall in downtown Los Angeles. The stream will be available for free from their website. The inaugural concert will bring together concertmaster Margaret Batjer, principal cellist Andrew Shulman, and guest pianist Andrew von Oeyen, for music by Florence Price and Felix Mendelssohn. LACO Executive Director Ben Cadwallader says, “Our goal for the series is to put our LACO musicians back to work and provide a safe path forward for musical performances to return to L.A. This is built on the thought of being for our town and not for us.”
Music for Hard Times – specifically the hard times we’re living in now – is a brand-new work that combines music and images that are hoping to make people feel better. Commissioned and played by the guitar and percussion duo The Living Earth Show (Travis Andrews and Andy Meyerson), it has music by Danny Clay and images by filmmaker Jon Fischer. Just two days before the order that sent everyone in San Francisco to their homes, they began work on the project, asking “is it possible for us to use the tools of our discipline – classical art music – to make people feel better?” The result, percussionist Andy Meyerson says, “is designed to offer a sonic resource for comfort and calming, and is one of the most beautiful pieces we have been fortunate enough to perform.” It recently had its premiere on the web show Living Music with Nadia Sirota, co-presented with New Music Bay area, and the Center for New Music.
YOLA National at Home offers a chance for musicians to play and learn from their own homes with musicians from the LA Phil, as well as hear keynote addresses from Music and Artistic Director Gustavo Dudamel and Thomas Wilkins. Starting at the end of this week, and running through the end of July, the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association will be presenting the program via Zoom and YouTube Live. There’s information about registering for the program at this link. It’s the newest incarnation and outgrowth of Gustavo Dudamel’s signature initiative, the LA Phil’s YOLA (Youth Orchestra Los Angeles), inspired by the El Sistema music education programs, aiming “to empower young people from populations that have been historically excluded from intensive music training and to build a community of musicians and educators committed to social justice locally, nationally, and internationally.” There will be talks given by some of the members of the YOLA community, panel discussions, training for teachers, “Pathway Explorations” that tell of how professionals were able to get where they’ve gotten, and material specifically tailored for young musicians and their training.
Musaics of the Bay has offered another premiere from its Stay-at-Home Symposium series, this time a solo cello piece by composer Milad Yousufi, called “Mystery,” inspired by a photograph by Dale Carter called “Ridges in Sand 1”. Cellist Gabriel Martins plays the work. Dale Carter’s photo was, in turn, inspired by the paintings of Mark Rothko, who frequently filled large canvases with deceptively simple juxtapositions of contrasting colors. That simplicity and sense of contrast comes across in the photograph. “There is a gentle sense of serenity and contemplation in his paintings that I attempted to capture in this series,” Carter told Musaics founder Audrey Vardanega. “Like Rothko, I took a meditative approach to this piece, with the soft color scheme… My main focus, though, was on capturing those fleeting, beautiful moments in nature when it reveals itself.”
California Symphony has begun what they’re calling “Fresh Look: The Symphony Exposed” – it’s a four-week online course about symphonic music that will be livestreamed on Tuesday nights (with the classes available on-demand for a week afterward). If you buy tickets ($25) you’ll be sent a link to view the course. It’s taught by Scott Foglesong, who’s Chair of Musicianship and Music Theory at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, who also is the program annotator for the California Symphony. The classes begin with “Orchestras 101 – You Could Google it, or…” which covers what conductors do, and the instruments that have joined the orchestra as it’s become what we know it today. The next class covers the Baroque and Viennese Classical eras, as composers were setting up expectations. The third class stretches from Beethoven, through the Romantics to such 20th Century politically-charged composers as Dmitri Shostakovich and Benjamin Britten. Finally, on July 28th, “Music of Our Time – A Kaleidoscope” which travels from Debussy and Early 20th Century through works written just a few years ago. That class will end with a discussion between Scott Foglesong and Donato Cabrera about “the past, present, and future of orchestral music.”
Donato Cabrera leading the California Symphony | Photo by Kristen Loken
A little late to the party in posting this, but here’s an impressive group video of symphonic percussionists from across the country playing John Philip Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever,” on marimbas, xylophones, glockenspiels, timpani and drums. They’re joined by the United States Army Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps, and the recording was directed and produced by Matt Howard, Principal Percussion of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Section Percussionist Perry Dreiman and Principal Timpani Joseph Pereira are also playing, as are San Francisco Symphony’s Jake Nissly and Bryce Leafman. Greg Cohen, Andy Watkins, and Erin Dowrey of the San Diego Symphony are rounding out the California representation in the performance.
As part of its #LAOAtHome series, LA Opera presents a Living Room Recital of American songs, with mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke and her husband, baritone Kelly Markgraf – including two world premieres. She was Hansel in the LA Opera’s production of Hansel and Gretel in 2018, and he created the role of Paul Jobs, the father of the Apple founder, in Mason Bates’ opera The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs at the Santa Fe Opera. They’re accompanied by Bryan Banowetz.
On Sundays, for their livestreamed services, a quartet of singers have provided music, but members of the Choir of Men and Boys of San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral have made this virtual choir recording of “If ye love me” by English Renaissance composer Thomas Tallis, led by their director Benjamin Bachmann.
And here are members of another of their choirs, Grace Cathedral Camerata, singing “Verleih uns Frieden” by Felix Mendelssohn.
Giuseppe Sammartini probably presumed that performances of his Sonata for Two Oboes would be played by oboists in the same place at the same time… but circumstances make necessary, and technology makes possible duets like this one – with Karen Hernandez and Madison Centeno, alumnae of LA Phil’s YOLA program who are both studying music at California State University – Long Beach.
The Alexander String Quartet kicked off the San Francisco Performances ‘Sanctuary’ Series of concerts with a livestream from St. Stephen’s Church in Belvedere. It was an all-Brahms performance, of two Quartets and an arrangement (by violinist Zakarias Grafilo) of one of his Intermezzos. Violinist Frederick Lifsitz introduces the pieces, saying: “These quartets by Brahms are interesting because Brahms started with the string quartet form very early on, thinking it would be something he could surmount relatively easily, compared to the symphonies… But he kept on feeling the ‘tramp of giants’ as he said, behind him. Beethoven in particular looking over his shoulder in Vienna. And so it took him 18 quartets that he wrote and destroyed before he finally had two that he would share publicly.” They play the Quartets, Opus 51, number one in C minor and number 2 in A minor, and the Opus 118, no. 2 Intermezzo.
The New Hollywood String Quartet has been releasing videos of its “Summer of Brahms” series of concerts, from the Carnegie Stage of the South Pasadena Public Library’s community room last year. Here’s violinist Cho-Liang Lin and pianist Rohan De Silva playing Brahms’ Violin Sonata No. 3 in D Minor, Op. 108. Although this season’s concerts have been canceled, there are plans afoot for a “Summer of Vienna” Chamber Music Festival for July of 2021, with repertoire of Beethoven and Schubert. You can find additional Brahms performances at the New Hollywood String Quartet website.
Berkeley Symphony and the Commonwealth Club of California join for a “Reflections Town Hall” tonight at 5pm, with panelists including the orchestra’s Music Director, Joseph Young, as well as Oakland Symphony’s Michael Morgan, and the Executive and Artistic Director of Cal Performances, Jeremy Geffen. The panel also includes Dr. Deborah L. Gould, Jeff Benson, Charles Chip McNeal (Director of Diversity, Equity and Community for San Francisco Opera), and S. Shariq Yosufzai (Board President of Berkeley Symphony). The goal of the forum is “to examine the role of arts organizations in addressing racial injustice.”
On Sunday, the San Francisco Symphony presented MTT25: An Online Tribute Event for Michael Tilson Thomas, on the day that would have been his final performance as Music Director. Instead of Mahler’s Symphony No. 8, there was an hour-plus-long tribute to MTT, hosted by Audra McDonald and Susan Graham, featuring members of the Symphony and Chorus, along with guest artists like Yo-Yo Ma, Renée Fleming, Julia Bullock, Bonnie Raitt, and more. It marked the final day of the Symphony’s 25-day long tribute to their Music Director, one for each year he led them, and the broadcast of the performance will be free at their YouTube channel
Los Angeles’ White Hall Arts Academy is one of 32 Creative Youth Development organizations to receive philanthropic money from The Lewis Prize for Music, going to “organizations across the U.S. that have adapted and responded to the pressing needs of the young people they serve amid the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. The White Hall Arts Academy received funding of $25,000 for its youth music education programs.” Tanisha Hall founded the Academy in 2011, moving from a career in popular music to education. “We are thankful and excited to be able to continue to teach, grow, and connect more students around the underserved neighborhoods of South Los Angeles and the global arts community at large. The funds from the Lewis Prize are going to allow our efforts to expand exponentially and better support the very deserving students we serve.” The other L.A. based groups to receive money are A Place Called Home and the Pico Youth and Family Center. In Northern California, Oakland’s YR Media (formerly Youth Radio), Enriching Lives Through Music in San Rafael, and the RYSE Center in Richmond also were recipients of the Lewis Prize funds.
Photo courtesy of White Hall Arts Academy
In honor of composer Terry Riley’s 85th birthday this week, here’s Bay Area pianist Sarah Cahill playing “Be Kind to One Another (Rag)” in a performance from July of 2018 as part of Old First Concerts. It was written for her by Riley several years ago as part of a commissioning project she called “A Sweeter Music.” Riley said the title “is taken from something Alice Walker said immediately after 9/11 happened: ‘We must learn to be kind to one another now.’ My new composition is a statement for peace, and as such it does not aim for dramatic content, but strives instead to enforce a feeling of balanced equilibrium and compassion.”
Introduced by Artistic Director Rachael Worby, and accompanied by bassist Mike Valerio, Canadian soprano Measha Brueggergosman shows her jazzier side with a rendition of Irving Berlin’s classic song “Blue Skies.” It’s part of the Pasadena-based MUSE/IQUE’s In a Minute (…Or Two) series of short performance videos with some of their favorite musicians.
Long Beach Symphony is offering a Virtual Music Education Week – with information and introductory videos in a “Virtual Instrumental Petting Zoo.” There are also craft activities, which include showing how to make your own instruments – and instrument-inspired snacks as well! More information is being rolled out throughout the week, and you can follow along with the updates several times a day at their Facebook page.
This weekend, San Francisco Opera will be streaming its production of Massenet’s Manon. Starring soprano Ellie Dehn and tenor Michael Fabiano, the stream will be available starting Saturday at 10am, for the weekend only. It’s part of their Opera Is On program, continuing to bring performances to audiences while the Opera House is dark. The production, from November of 2017, was a co-production of San Francisco Opera, Lithuanian National Opera and Ballet Theatre, and the Israeli Opera.
“San Francisco’s Musical Lunch Break,” Noontime Concerts presents an archive performance by the early music ensemble MUSA this week, with an unusual program of works written in the Western tradition, but “in and for Chinese courts, as well as Chinese music transcribed by European visitors of the 17th and 18th centuries.” The concert at Old St. Mary’s Cathedral is from March, 2018. There are works for voice, violin, cello and harpsichord, as well as the traditional Chinese instruments guzheng and guqin.
Cellist Ani Aznavoorian and pianist Warren Jones play Brahms’ passionate first Cello Sonata in this performance. It was recorded live in September of 2015 at Hahn Hall in Santa Barbara as part of a Music Academy of the West program that featured principal artists from Camerata Pacifica.
With a jaunty way to start the week, Michael Tilson Thomas introduces a sweet jazzy piece that he co-wrote with his father Ted, as played by members of the San Francisco Symphony from their homes and studios. It’s called “The Whistle Song”. He tells the story of the composition, which started with his father at the piano playing a “Jewish Tin Pan Alley” riff that would always cheer up the conductor as a young boy. He’d add improvisations to the melody on the piano, and the two would whistle it as they went out for walks. “Hoping this little song will become part of your lives, and you can whistle it as you go down the street.” (He even gave permission for us all to come up with our own words for the tune.)
The Martha Graham Dance Company and the contemporary music ensemble Wild Up have released a video of the first performance of Immediate Tragedy, a virtual ensemble piece inspired by a 1937 Martha Graham solo that was lost. 14 dancers take part, choreographed by Artistic Director Janet Eilber, to new music by Christopher Rountree. The premiere was presented and commissioned by The Soraya. Moving in different spaces, they come together as a unified whole.
The Los Angeles-based SongFest art song festival and training program has released a video of a conversation with four legendary African-American operatic singers and teachers called The Voice of the Spirit. Florence Quivar, George Shirley, Dr. Ollie Watts Davis, and Dr. Katherine Jolly trace the important role the Negro Spiritual has played in the American and international singing landscape.
The singers of Chanticleer are breaking out their concert finery, just to remind them how to tie bow ties while they’re getting things done in and around the house, in this video they call “Tails of Our Lives”…
In the first of several premieres of their Stay-at-Home Symposium, Musaics of the Bay presents “Improvisation on Blue” by composer/violinist Lauren Vandervelden, and painter Darril Ann Tighe. It’s inspired by Tighe’s painting “Transition to Blue.” That painting, in turn, was the result of a friend’s off-hand remark that blue was a favorite color, which led to Tighe challenging herself to make an all-blue work. “Blues represent not only peace and calm, but the ocean, the sky, the deep blues of the sky as it turns orange with the sunset. I was finished in a week. The painting was rich with blues. It felt like I could fall into it and swim.” Composer Vandervelden has synesthesia, which made her translations of color into sound all the more personal.
Los Angeles Music and Art School is announcing ArtsWeek, an at-home (and in a few weeks, in-person) arts camp for kids, continuing its 75 year tradition of education. “ArtsWeek explores all four disciplines of Music, Art, Dance and Drama for children ages 7 and up to age 20 in well-crafted crash courses delivered with virtual and in-person options.” Kids can learn from USC alum Austin Chanu, who’s currently getting his masters at the Eastman School of Music, starting the week of June 22 and July 6. “Students learn about melody, harmony, counterpoint, and orchestration through a crash course in theory, musical examples, writing for different instruments and experimenting together. Students receive feedback each day and gather ideas to strengthen their compositional technique. Professional musicians from the Eastman School of Music will perform each composed piece and students will receive their own recording to add to their composition portfolio.” There are a total of 28 week-long courses offered through LAMusArt, a nonprofit that provides low-cost or completely free instruction to students at all levels all throughout the year, regardless of age, ethnicity, income or ability.
The Pacific Symphony’s Dennis Kim and LA Opera Orchestra’s Roberto Cani are joined by other concertmasters from ensembles spanning from Hawaii to Utah, Dallas to Minnesota, and on to Washington DC in a video called “Concertmasters Coast-to-Coast.” They play from Bach’s Concerto for Two Violins in this special virtual performance that brings together some of the top violinists in the country (accompanied by Pacific Symphony’s Laszlo Mezo on multiple cello parts).
As the ensemble is kept from playing together, Ben Simon, Music Director of the San Francisco Chamber Orchestra has launched ‘The Simon Says Show.’ In the first episode, he looks at how birdsongs made their way into two classical works by Vivaldi and Beethoven.
This past Saturday, the Bay Area-based early music ensemble Voices of Music and the San Francisco Girls Chorus released on YouTube a high definition video from their joint performance of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas. They presented the work during the last Berkeley Early Music Festival, in 2018, winning San Francisco Classical Voice “Best of the Bay” awards in three categories. The chorus is led by Valérie Sainte-Agathe, and Voices of Music’s co-directors are Hanneke van Proosdij and David Tayler. The video release is part of VOM’s online Summer Early Music Festival, as well as the SFGC’s 2020 Virtual Festival. Here’s a highlight, the duet “Fear no danger to ensue”, with soloists Emma Powell and Nia Spaulding:
In a Zoom conversation stretching from the West Coast to Europe, four African-American conductors discuss their experiences in the world of classical music. Thomas Wilkins, Music Director of the Omaha Symphony and Hollywood Bowl Orchestra; Michael Morgan, Music Director of the Oakland Symphony; Jonathon Heyward, a former Los Angeles Philharmonic Dudamel Conducting Fellow, and now Chief Conductor Designate of the Nordwestdeutsche Philharmonie; and hosted by Roderick Cox, who, in addition to a busy conducting schedule, launched a project in 2018 to aid young musicians of color with scholarship funds for instruments and lessons. It’s a fascinating talk that charts both the history and future of the art of classical music, and how it can serve to unite us.
The Davis Senior High School Baroque Ensemble, one of the very few orchestras at the high school level to specialize in music from the Baroque era, was part of the Virtual Young Performers Festival and Emerging Artists Showcase during the week in which they would have taken part in the Berkeley Festival & Exhibition. The BFX, presented biennially by Early Music America and the San Francisco Early Music Society, brings together many of the finest groups of early music ensembles from around the world. The Davis ensemble’s video includes highlights from a 2019 winter concert, and from their tour in 2017 of Vienna and Italy. They also play in a virtual performance of a Vivaldi concerto for two violins with Rachel Barton Pine and her daughter, Sylvia.
Berkeley Symphony and the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra are part of New Music USA’s “Amplifying Voices Program” with the goal of better representation of new music by composers of color. Brian Raphael Nabors will be writing a work for Berkeley Symphony, and Shelley Washington’s piece will be premiered by LACO. In announcing the commissions, New Music USA said “Amplifying Voices aims to make major strides in transforming the classical canon. According to the Institute for Composer Diversity’s analysis of 120 American orchestras’ 2019-2020 plans, 94% of music programmed for that season’s mainstage orchestral concerts was written by white composers.” The new works will be premiered during the 2021-22 sesason, and each will be performed by a minimum of four orchestras. The other composers in the program, which is supported by the Sphinx Venture Fund, are Valerie Coleman, Juan Pablo Contreras, Tania León, and Tyshawn Sorey.
Live music won’t be wafting through Libbey Park as originally scheduled this week, but wherever you’re sheltering in place you’re invited to attend a virtual edition of the 74th Ojai Music Festival beginning Thursday, June 11 at 7pm on their website. The virtual offerings take place nightly through Sunday, then on-demand. Festival Artistic Director-designate Ara Guzelimian, an Ojai stalwart, hosts this series of performances and conversations, featuring such artists as this year’s Music Director Matthias Pintscher, members of the Calder Quartet, and composers Olga Neuwirth and Steve Reich. You can also take a virtual gallery tour and check out recipes from some of Ojai’s finest restaurants.
Virtual Ojai Festival participants Ara Guzelimian, Matthias Pintscher, Olga Neuwirth, and producer Fiona Digney | Photo courtesy of the Ojai Music Festival
The Ojai Music Festival at Libbey Park | Photo by Timothy Norris, courtesy of the Ojai Music Festival
The Ojai Festival has also released a memorable performance from the 2016 Festival: Josephine Baker: A Portrait, a song cycle by Tyshawn Sorey with a text by Claudia Rankine performed by soprano Julia Bullock and the International Contemporary Ensemble. A New York Times article recently described the still evolving theater piece as “a ritual of mourning, a reminder of Baker’s racial struggles and civil rights activism, and of the era of police brutality and Black Lives Matter in which we currently live.”
Photo of Soprano Julia Bullock and percussionist/composer Tyshawn Sorey performing “Josephine Baker: A Portrait” at the 2016 Ojai Music Festival | Photo courtesy of the Ojai Music Festival.
Los Angeles Opera presents “Lift Every Voice,” a conversation on racial disparity and inequality in opera, convened in response to the George Floyd nationwide protests. Company president Christopher Koelsch sets a frank tone for the discussion at the top, acknowledging this kind of convening is “long overdue”. The panel features some of the most prominent singers of our day—mezzo-soprano J’nai Bridges moderates; the other participants are soprano Julia Bullock, soprano Karen Slack, tenor Lawrence Brownlee, tenor Russell Thomas, and bass Morris Robinson. Please note: the video begins with about three minutes of silence before getting underway.
Kronos Quartet has released a powerful music video for a portion of the work Peace Be Till, written by Oakland’s Zachary Watkins. The text is from Martin Luther King’s “Letter from the Birmingham Jail,” read by Dr. Clarence B. Jones, “former personal counsel, speechwriter, and advisor” to MLK, and current director of the University of San Francisco Institute for Nonviolence and Social Justice. The images include archival footage of the marches from Selma to Montgomery in 1965.
For more than fifty years, Orange County choral music fans have reveled in the stirring performances of Pacific Chorale. While its spring performances have been canceled, you can sample the Chorale’s fresh, wide-ranging repertoire in a series of digital offerings, including this rendition of the Ave Maria from Giuseppe Verdi’s Four Sacred Pieces. The performance is led by the Chorale’s artistic director emeritus, John Alexander, who retired a few seasons ago after 44 seasons at the chorus’s helm.
The Pacific Chorale has just released its latest recording, All Things Common, which also features the forward-looking LA chamber ensemble Salastina. Pacific Chorale Artistic Director Robert Istad conducts music by the group’s composer-in -residence Tarik O’Regan, including several world premiere recordings. Here’s a preview:
The winner of this year’s Klein International String Competition is Gabrielle Després, a 19-year-old violinist from Canada, who has studied at the Juilliard School. As the winner, she’ll receive $13,000, and performance contracts with the Peninsula and Santa Cruz Symphonies, Gualala Arts Chamber Music Series, and Music in the Vineyards. The competition was all online this year, and you can watch Saturday’s (pre-recorded) performances below (Gabrielle Després plays at 1:11:15), and Sunday’s can be seen here.
Since its live performances were suspended in March, the Pacific Symphony has been showcasing its players in a series of Quarantine Clips, brief, highly engaging at-home concerts. Violinist Alice Miller-Wrate spices up this edition of the series with a cooking demo: as they whip up a cookie sheet of homemade granola, she and her daughter try to outpace violinist Augustin Hadelich’s rendition of Paganini’s Moto Perpetuo. Spoiler alert: Alice and Ella conclude the video on a triumphant note, but it’s arguable they added a dollop of cheating to their recipe. Hadelich, who played music of Paganini with Pacific Symphony earlier this season, sounds like he’s cheating, but no; his lightning-fast rendition is in real-time. You have to hear it to believe it. And even then…
No cooking hints included in this next Pacific Symphony Quarantine Clip, but it might be a recipe for a bit of calm and consolation. Pacific Symphony violinist Yu-Tong Sharp plays The Swan, from Carnival of the Animals by Saint-Saint-Saëns.
The Pacific Symphony’s education department, meanwhile, has expanded its online educational resources, offering a wide variety of lesson plans, activities, and even violin lessons for all ages. The site also offers a guide to nationwide online music and arts resources for the entire family.
Composer Lisa Bielawa | Photo by Paul Kuroda
San Francisco-born composer and singer Lisa Bielawa is spending our current times creating a new work that draws upon testimonies of ordinary people. It’s called Broadcast from Home, and it’s a growing work in progress. She’s releasing a ‘chapter’ at a time once a week. The contributed texts have evolved over the weeks, dealing with such topics as fear, boredom, isolation, and increasingly, social justice. It’s an ongoing project, still soliciting input from the public. The first chapter, called “That Other You Still Exists” can be heard here:
Just prior to the sheltering-in-place guidelines, the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra convened a roundtable featuring composers whose music has been championed by the orchestra in recent years: Juan Pablo Contreras, Sarah Gibson, José Enrique González Medina, and Derrick Spiva Jr. The Table Talk conversation probed issues of diversity, inclusiveness, and cultural appropriation. The composers also offered a wealth of practical advice for young composers.
The latest addition of LACO’s #MusicianDropFriday series features its newest player, violinist Jason Issokson playing a rarely heard work of Brahms with pianist Jiayi Shi. In a candid interview, Jason confesses he has surprisingly light orchestral experience. Of particular interest to aspiring instrumentalists: Jason divulges that his recent successful audition for LACO wasn’t his first; he failed to progress beyond the first round last time.
The duet called Chordless, with pianist Allegra Chapman and soprano Sara LeMesh have released a video, filmed, as luck would have it, shortly before the time of social distancing. It’s a piece by George Crumb called “The Night in Silence Under Many a Star.” The filmmaker was Joseph Dwyer, and the sound engineer was Matt Carr.
The Irving M. Klein International String Competition takes place this weekend, virtually – with some of the best young players competing for cash prizes as well as performance contracts. The eight semi-finalists (including cellist Davis You from Palo Alto) are submitting videos they’ve recorded at home, and will be judged by a distinguished panel beginning at 10am both Saturday and Sunday. You can follow along at the California Music Center’s YouTube channel. There are five violinists, two cellists, and one violist among this year’s semi-finalists, aged 18-21. Here’s last year’s winner, cellist James Baik from his competition finals performance.
For classical fans on the Central Coast, the 50 year-old Festival Mozaic’s 2020 season cancellation hit hard. But there is some consolation in a new series of Festival videos. The latest “Mozaic Moment” is a 2019 Festival performance of Joaquín Turina’s Piano Quintet. The pianist is John Novacek, who took a serious fall on the way to the concert but played right through the pain. The Quintet is a one-of-a-kind score, incorporating tunes from the composer’s native Spain, Brahms-like harmonies, even Gregorian chant. Our musical tour guide is Festival Director Scott Yoo, so charming and insightful a commentator that PBS recently scooped him up to be the host of its engaging Great Performances series Now Hear This.
Oh, one more Great Performances alert! June 5th is your last chance to catch the PBS free video of the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s Centennial Gala, recorded this past fall. Three LA Phil music directors graced the Disney Hal stage— Gustavo Dudamel, Esa-Pekka Salonen, and Zubin Mehta. The program features music closely associated with each, plus the world premiere of Daníel Bjarnason’s “From Space I Saw Earth”, a tribute to the Apollo 11 mission. It required all three conductors onstage at the same time. A peek at this orchestral feat and the complete LA Phil 100 concert.
Left Coast Chamber Ensemble has released a full concert performance that they’re calling “Sheltering Music,” with works by Aram Khachaturian, Elliott Carter, Robert Schumann, Beethoven, Ruth Crawford Seeger and more, changing the programming of their final concert of the season to be able to play solos and duets from across four centuries. The concert was streamed live from the Doug Adams Gallery of the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley (with the exception of Eric Zivian’s piano performance, which was recorded at his house) with introductions pre-recorded by the musicians, to avoid sharing a microphone.
Oakland Symphony (with members of the Chorus, Youth Orchestra, and MUSE educational program) has released an arrangement of the Bill Withers classic song ‘Lean on Me.’ Music Director Michael Morgan says they dedicate the performance “to the City of Oakland, our first responders, and to all in our community who are suffering. We know that music has the power to transcend, to move, to challenge, and to heal.” The arrangement, with a virtual performance by 130 members of the community, from ages 8-86, also pays tribute to the singer/songwriter who made it famous, who died at the end of March.
The USC Oriana Choir stands out from other USC Thornton School of Music ensembles in that it is open to non-music majors as well as faculty and staff. No audition necessary, nor even prior choral experience. The all-female group came together for their first virtual performance to express a sense of hope in these difficult times. This poignant song by contemporary Swiss composer Ivo Antognini is set to a text depicting a conversation between a refugee child and his father. The pianist is Thornton Master’s student Anthony Cardella.
A Thornton alum, flutist Gina Luciani, has been creating online content for years as both a performer and teacher, so she was ready for the switch this spring to virtual concerts. From her home studio, where she’s recorded music for The Simpsons and other soundtracks, Gina performs Passacaille by René-Emmanuel Baton, known as Rhené-Baton. The pianist is James Lent.
Pianist Lara Downes is featured in a new NPR Music Tiny Desk (Home) Concert, playing selections from her recent album Some of These Days. The music is arrangements of spirituals and freedom songs, works that tell of, as she puts it, “hope, and courage and survival.” From her home in Sacramento, she plays “Troubled Water,” by Margaret Bonds, Samuel Coleridge Taylor’s arrangement of “Deep River,” and the title track “Some of These Days” arranged by Florence Price. The last tune, she says, “envisions a better world, a world that’s going to come, some of these days.”
In past seasons, San Francisco’s Community Music Center has presented a fundraising ‘Performathon’ with an open house and two days worth of concerts to celebrate their Field Day. Gertrude Field was the founder of the CMC in 1921. All this week, they’re presenting a Virtual Field Day, sharing during the noon hour a livestream of curated performance videos from the CMC students. It’s on both their Facebook page as well as their website. There are also concerts by faculty in the Shenson Salons Free Concert Series, including performances by the Bernal Hill Players, violinist Michael Long, pianist Christopher Basso, and songwriter Larry Dunn. They take place through Thursday at 5:30pm on their Facebook page.
The curtain rises in Angel Joy Blue’s living room on the latest episode of LA Opera’s At Home Series. The soprano, a sensation as Bess in the Metropolitan Opera’s recent production of Porgy and Bess, trained in her native Southern California—she’s an alum of LA County High School of the Arts, University of Redlands, UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music and LA Opera’s Young Artists program. Angel’s astonishing voice and her warm, down-to-earth personality shine through this viral video, “Kids Meet an Opera Singer.” Maybe you’ve seen it? It’s been viewed more than 10 million times. Watch Angel Joy Blue’s LA Opera At Home concert on the LAO at Home website. And catch last week’s Living Room Recital by another starry alum of LA Opera’s Young Artists program, soprano Amanda Woodbury on Facebook.
Photo of soprano Angel Joy Blue by Sonya Garza, courtesy of Los Angeles Opera
Concerts by the conductorless chamber ensemble One Found Sound have always had a comfortable, social vibe to them, with players and audience members in close proximity, as you can see from the video below. So while they’re unable to have that kind of community experience, they’re hosting “watch parties” on Facebook instead. During the parties, they’re commenting and interacting with audience members, and then the performance is archived for several days. The next concert that they’re presenting, today at 5:30pm is Frederic Rzewski’s Coming Together, which they describe this way: “This minimalist classic accompanies a dramatic text that highlights the experience of isolation, the passage of time, and the need for togetherness.”
Though live orchestra concerts are on a long pause, the LA Phil has mobilized its musicians to produce an engaging series of At Home performance videos. Longtime Associate Concertmaster Bing Wang brings us one of the most beloved pieces in the violin repertoire in this new offering in the series. She finds in the Méditation by Jules Massenet “a profound sense of hope which takes on new meaning in these times.” At the piano, Bing’s son Andrew Gong.
Angel City Chorale, the 180-voice multicultural LA choir that made a big splash on America’s Got Talent, has been hard at work during the shutdown creating a fun and uplifting video with sky-high production values: Sogno di Volare or “A Dream of Flight.” It’s music of Christopher Tin that he originally wrote for the video game Civilization VI, and it’s become one of the choir’s signature tunes. The performance is led by Angel City Chorale founding artistic director and conductor Sue Fink.
With stars like ballerina Misty Copeland and singer Josh Groban among its alums, the Music Center of LA County’s Spotlight Awards program is a major stepping stone for young Southern California musicians and dancers. Since the Music Center is shuttered, the 32nd annual Spotlight Grand Finale goes virtual for the first time. The silver lining: anyone, anywhere can enjoy the remarkable talent on display this Saturday, May 30 at 7pm on their website or YouTube channel, and both Copeland and Groban will make appearances. How remarkable is the talent on display, you ask? Well, brace yourself for this Spotlight Prize-winning performance of music by Franz Liszt featuring then 15 year-old pianist Tyler Kim. This year some 1,400 applicants from more than 250 high schools auditioned for the Spotlight program, which includes free workshops and seminars throughout the year.
Spotlight Awards ballet finalist Ashley Lew is a junior at Capistrano Connections Academy in San Juan Capistrano. Photo courtesy of the Music Center of LA County.
The Los Angeles Master Chorale is sharing the joy of choral music Sundays at Seven, offering full-length concert performances. On May 30th, tune in for Sonic Masterworks, a treat for the ears, ranging from baroque works to music of our time by Moses Hogan, Eric Whitacre, and Steven Stucky. A highlight: this 17th century sonic spectacular from the 17th century, Miserere by Gregorio Allegri.
For some 30 years, the Los Angeles Master Chorale has created a kind of high school super-choir comprised of 1,000 singers from throughout LA County who come together to raise their voices at the Walt Disney Concert Hall. Since the kids can’t gather in person this year, the Chorale is presenting a virtual version of the festival. Tune in Wednesday, June 3rd at 1pm.
“San Francisco’s Musical Lunch Break,” Noontime Concerts, has posted this performance from its archives of Belgian violinist and piano duo Jolente De Maeyer and Nikolaas Kende playing music of Mendelssohn and Beethoven. The concert, from October of 2017, includes the Mendelssohn Violin Sonata op. 4 in F minor, (written when he was 14 years old), as well as the famed “Kreutzer” Sonata of Beethoven.
Long Beach Opera has launched a lively series of Artist Afternoons—performances, conversations, and interviews with its far-flung artists. Tomorrow’s 4pm livestream features soprano Suzan Hanson, who has performed more than 30 roles with the company. On Thursdays, the charismatic team of bass-baritone Cedric Berry and tenor Ashley Faatoalia hold forth on Cedric and Ash: In the House. Their engaging personalities and powerful voices meld beautifully. Both Cedric and Ash appeared in LBO’s The Central Park Five, which just a few weeks ago picked up the 2020 Pulitzer Prize in Music. In the House features performances and backstage stories. The two also share their special shelter-at-home skills, including recipes and home improvement tutorials! Long Beach Opera’s Artist Afternoons are livestreamed at 4pm on their Facebook page and check out the performances later on their website. Though it is known for its adventurous productions of new works and its innovative interpretations of the classics, LBO is actually the oldest professional opera company in the LA and Orange County areas. Next season’s roster includes an opera that had to be cancelled this season, The Lighthouse, written in 1983 by Sir Peter Maxwell Davies. It’s a kind of ghost story opera based on the real-life disappearance of three lighthouse keepers in turn-of-the-century Scotland. Here’s the whole 2021 season.
Photo by Keith Ian Polakoff from the Long Beach Opera production of Central Park Five, courtesy of Long Beach Opera.
Mix it up with the Maestro of Los Angeles Opera! Just in time for the holiday weekend, it’s a chance to grab a cup of java and hear company Music Director James Conlon answer your questions about the art form. Watch “Coffee with Conlon” on the company’s Facebook page. The new series kicks off Friday May 22 at 5pm, and is available on-demand following the livestream.
Santa Barbara-based Camerata Pacifica has been hailed by the Los Angeles Times as “the best chamber music reason to get out of the house in these parts.” Well, we can’t get out of the house much these days, but you can still hear new performances by the ensemble — livestreams are presented every Sunday. These “Concerts at Home” can be heard at 11:30 AM on the ensemble’s Facebook page and at 10 AM and 6 PM on their YouTube channel. Presenting top chamber musicians from around the world, Camerata Pacifica normally performs each concert in four locations, from Santa Barbara to downtown Los Angeles. While the concerts halls are shuttered, check out its rich video archive, of past performances, including this stunner from earlier this season of a Wind Quintet by Carl Nielsen:
“Distance makes the heart grow/Even when I’m lonely…” In a new video, Chanticleer sings (appropriately enough) a song called “Distance” by soul singer/songwriter Emily King, (as arranged by Tim Keeler, their next Music Director).
The Santa Rosa Symphony Youth Orchestra has ended its season by releasing a full “Virtual Chamber Music Concert”, with fourteen ensembles of young musicians playing music by Vivaldi, Corelli, Haydn, Mozart, Delibes, Villa-Lobos, and more. To end the concert, they gave the virtual world premiere of Michael Murrin’s Fuel of the Soul, a brass and percussion piece for 26 players that was commissioned by the SRSYO to help celebrate its 60th anniversary this year.
PianoSpheres invites you to slip on your most elegant concert attire (sweatpants encouraged), grab a beverage of choice, and virtually attend a performance by Susan Svrček, a founding member of the series founded in 1994 by Leonard Stein. Susan’s spring recital was canceled but PianoSpheres has just released her performance of Frederick Lesemann’s jazzy |bar code| (dance music for two pianos), with pianist Nelson Ojeda Valdés. This is the world premiere performance from 2017. Lesemann is a Southern California native and Emeritus Professor of Composition at his alma mater, the USC Thornton School of Music, where he taught for decades.
Berkeley Symphony’s Music Director Joseph Young will be hosting “An Afternoon with Berkeley Symphony” this Sunday afternoon from 3:00 to 4:00. It’s presented by the Berkeley Relief Fund, which is fundraising for small businesses and non-profits hardest hit by the pandemic. It will include solo performances, interviews with Symphony players, and video footage from his first concert in the role of Music Director. Young was chosen for the job on the basis of a crowd-pleasing performance he led as a last-minute substitute for a scheduled guest-conductor. He’s also put together a Shelter-in-Place playlist of music that he’s been listening to while staying at home, currently in Baltimore.
Joseph Young | Photo by Jeff Roffman
Hard to believe the beloved Ojai Festival won’t be taking place as always early next month in beautiful Libbey Park, complete with picnicking on the lawn, the backdrop of a majestic oak grove, and aural cameos by Ojai’s contemporary music-loving bird population. But the Festival is keeping up with its audience through a rich archive of videos. In addition, every Thursday at noon, the Festival presents short videos for kids: free lessons in song, movement, and interactive musical play based on the nationally known Education Through Music curriculum. The latest Ojai Festival concert video, released this week, is a tour de force featuring Australian keyboard virtuoso Anthony Romaniuk. At his Ojai Festival debut in 2018, he presented on harpsichord and piano a wide-ranging (to put it mildly) recital, rapturously received. Now you can hear it in its entirety: some 450 years of music history, from 16th century English composer William Byrd to 20th century Hungarian, György Ligeti, with J.S.Bach, Bartok, and many more in between.
Cal Performances’ Executive and Artistic Director Jeremy Geffen has been curating an extensive list of online streamable content that they’re calling Now, More Than Ever. Reflective of the diverse programming that Cal Performances offers, this collection includes everything from a Bollywood duet to Isaac Stern playing Bach, and Gustavo Dudamel conducting at the Proms, to Michelle Dorrance tap-dancing at a festival in Stockholm. Geffen has been presenting the selections with detailed commentary on the Cal Performances website, explaining why he’s chosen to share them, often with personal stories about the works or performers. There’s also a YouTube playlist (without the commentary). In the most recent collection, he includes this performance by Polish countertenor Jakub Józef Orliński of an arrangement of a work by Stanisław Moniuszko. Orliński is scheduled to come to Zellerbach Hall in April of 2021.
With their long-anticipated (and fastidiously rehearsed) spring concerts sadly canceled, students at the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music have found alternative ways to come together in performance. From their homes around the world, the members of the contemporary chamber ensemble uclaFLUX came together to perform some fascinating repertoire. Hungarian composer György Kurtág arranged this music from a Bach cantata for himself and his wife to play together. It’s performed here by pianist Duong Phan in Huntington Beach and Brandon Zhou in Albany, New York.
American composer David Lang wrote this homage to 15th-century composer Guillaume Dufay in 1992. The scoring is for a whopping six pianos. One of those pianos was swapped out for a marimba; it was the only instrument UCLA student Chris Hightower had on hand at his LA home. Joining Chris, in addition to Duong and Brandon (featured in the Bach piece above) are Hana Kim from Suwon, South Korea; Yi Sophia Ji from her home in Heifei Anhui, China; and their teacher, renowned Los Angeles pianist Gloria Cheng.
Recently, members of the California Symphony raised the spirits of area healthcare workers in an effort called #MozartForMedics. Concertmaster Jennifer Cho and principal viola Marcel Gemperli played a socially-distanced program of duets at the John Muir Health Walnut Creek Medical Center. The staff was starting 12-hour shifts and being screened for COVID as the music played, starting in the morning at 6:45. California Symphony reports: “The hospital says they have received generous donations from Safeway, Sees Candy and others in our community, however this is the first donation they’re received that addresses emotional support and healing for their healthcare staff. Music is indeed an undeniable balm!”
Members of the California Symphony about to some #MozartForMedics | Theisen Imagery
The Los Angeles-based Kaleidoscope Chamber Orchestra prides itself on its inclusive approach to classical music. No tickets required for their concerts; the mantra is “pay whatever makes you happy” and they perform largely in community venues such as churches, hospitals, shelters, and schools. The conductorless ensemble also strives to expand the repertoire. In the past few years alone, they’ve presented more than two dozen commissions. A recent international call for scores (with no application fee) elicited close to 8,000 new works from composers around the world. In addition to works selected from that bounty, Kaleidoscope’s 7th season will include commissions from such composers as Ted Hearne, Julia Adolphe, Billy Childs, Christopher Cerrone, and Anna Clyne. It’s not clear when concerts will resume, of course, so in the meantime check out past performances on Kaleidoscope’s YouTube page, including:
From December, a rousing Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 by J.S. Bach.
And here’s Red, by Nina Shekhar. The fast-rising Los Angeles composer was just named USC Thornton School of Music’s outstanding master’s grad. Her works have been performed by the Jack Quartet, Eighth Blackbird, and this splendid Kaleidoscope Chamber Orchestra reed quintet.
For more than fifty years, Orange County choral music fans have reveled in the wide-ranging repertoire and exciting performances of the Pacific Chorale. The Chorale was to have concluded its 53rd season this weekend with a gala performance at Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall. But the choir is still connecting with its concert-deprived audience, introducing a new interactive feature on its Facebook page. Ask the Maestro is your chance to pick the brain of Pacific Chorale Artistic Director Rob Istad. Everything you wanted to know about choral music but were afraid to ask! Pose your choral query in the comment section of the Chorale’s Facebook page. That’s also where you can pick up some valuable choral cocktail advice from Pacific Chorale CEO Andrew Brown: the recipe for Trader Andy’s Mai Tai.
On the Chorale’s website, you can hear some of its latest recordings, including their newest one, which features some haunting, never-before-recorded works by contemporary composer Tarik O’Regan, plus music of Jake Heggie and William Bolcom.
The Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra (LACO) has been busy creating fun and musically inspiring digital content since the moment their spring series was canceled due to the pandemic. The cancellation was a tough blow for the orchestra; this is Spanish maestro Jaime Martín’s first season as music director. Martín has already garnered raves for his powerfully visceral music-making with LACO and his vivacious personality. Writing about the first concert of the season, Los Angeles Times music critic Mark Swed cited Martín’s infectious music-making: “He seems to be having a blast”, wrote Swed. “The musicians seem to be having a blast. The audience is invited to the party.”
If you didn’t get an opportunity to experience Jaime’s charm in person, now’s your (virtual) chance. This weekend he’ll be taking part in a chat with Sheku Kanneh-Mason, the fast-rising young cellist of royal wedding fame and LACO’s artist-in-residence. Sheku will also be heard in a performance with his pianist sister Isata Kanneh-Mason. The livestream will showcase the orchestra, too, performing Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3, the “Eroica” led by Thomas Dausgaard. The livestreams take place on Saturday, May 16 at 8 PM, with an encore performance Sunday, May 17 at 7 PM on their website. Afterward, catch the performances on-demand.
Photo of Sheku Kanneh-Mason by Lars Borges courtesy of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra
During the past weeks, Marin Symphony has released a series of videos on its YouTube channel with conductor Alasdair Neale and members of the orchestra (and some other special guests) in conversation. One of the recent videos has concertmaster Jeremy Constant playing Massenet’s “Meditation” from Thaïs, accompanied on piano by Peter Grünberg at a different location. Despite the free tempos, they were able to stay together beautifully in this socially-distanced performance!
The beloved denizens of The Magic Flute — Papageno, Tamino, the Queen of the Night and the rest of the gang — take a flying leap into the realm of 1990’s video games in Pacific Opera Project’s family-friendly production of Mozart’s beloved opera. This virtual voyage into the frenzied world of Super Mario Bros. and Zelda takes place Wednesday, May 13 at 5pm (and is available afterwards on-demand). The delightfully zany production is sung in English. Brush-up on Flute trivia, and check out suggested recipes, drinks, costume ideas, crafts, and games to play in preparation for the big show on their website. View the stream on POP’s Facebook page (where you can chat with the cast) or YouTube channel. For an example of Pacific Opera Project’s playful approach to opera: check out this 2019 production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Mikado, anime-style!
On Thursday evening, the contemporary chamber group called Ensemble for These Times is going to present its program “Blooming Flowers: Music by Women Composers” via livestream. It’s part of the Center for New Music’s Encore Concert series, and originally took place live in January, to a sold-out crowd. The program features the world premiere of Weiwei Miao’s piano trio called “Blooming Flowers, Full Moon,” and works by nine other women composers, including Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, Victoria Bond, Chen Yi, and Aleksandra Vrebalov. Several composers and musicians from the concert will be available to answer audience questions as a part of a live chat through the Center for New Music’s Facebook or YouTube channel, or on their website.
The health benefits of choral singing have been well-documented. Now, as you shelter at home, the Colburn School invites you to practice this joyous form of self-care by raising your voice as part of Eric Whitacre’s Sing Gently, his 6th Virtual Choir project. No worries: you don’t need to be the next Renée Fleming to take part in this high-tech choral extravaganza. Virtual Choir 6 is open to singers of all ages and experience levels.
Eric Whitacre | Photo by Marc Royce, courtesy of the Colburn School
To participate, visit virtualchoir6.com, where you will be able to download sheet music, record your performance, and submit the video online. There, you’ll also find vocal warm-ups and workshops in composition and singing technique. The deadline for uploading your video is May 22. It was a little over a decade ago that the beloved Los Angeles-based composer Eric Whitacre created his first ground-breaking Virtual Choir as an experiment in then newish forms of social media. More than 20,000 singers have participated in the intervening years. Here’s Virtual Choir 3.0 Eric Whitacre’s Water Night, sung by nearly 3,000 singers from 73 countries.
The Piedmont East Bay Children’s Choir has released a video of their ensemble Ancora singing “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square” together (virtually) in anticipation of their Virtual Jazz & Beyond Concert. The full performance will premiere on their YouTube channel on Saturday, May 16th at 7 Pacific. It will include members of both the Ancora (high school-aged female voices) and Ecco (high school-aged male and female) ensembles, in solos, duets, and small groups, singing jazz-inflected a cappella works.
This weekend, San Francisco Opera will begin streaming archival performances at their website, from 10 am Saturday through midnight Sunday. The first presentation will be Arrigo Boito’s Mefistofele, with Nicola Luisotti conducting. The production, directed by Robert Carsen was from 2013, and stars Russian bass-baritone Ildar Abdrazakov in as the devil, with San Francisco favorite Patricia Racette in the roles of Margherita and Elena. It’s part of SFO’s Opera is ON initiative, to raise our spirits while we’re unable to attend live performances. Upcoming shows will include Bellini’s I Capuleti e I Montecchi (The Capulets and the Montagues), Jake Heggie’s Moby-Dick, and Donizetti’s Lucrezia Borgia, with Renee Fleming and Michael Fabiano.
One of the advantages of being part of a musical family is that chamber music performances can continue, even while staying at home. Here’s the Costanza-Fong Trio, with Debra Fong, principal second violinist of the San Francisco Chamber Orchestra; Christopher Costanza, cellist from the St. Lawrence String Quartet; and their daughter, violist Isabella Costanza, playing a String Trio by Schubert.
California Symphony percussionist Allen Biggs brings Bach outside, as he plays a bit of Bach’s Partita No. 1, originally written for violin, on his marimba in his driveway. There’s a profile of Biggs on the California Symphony website, referring to him as a ‘Percussionist-in-Place’.
Ahoy young mateys! Tuesday May 12th at 3:30pm, Opera Santa Barbara is pulling up anchor on its children’s opera Odyssey, last season’s Homer-inspired production featuring the Santa Barbara Youth Opera. The livestream sets sail on the company’s Facebook and YouTube channels. And here’s more on the company’s unique summer camp for kids ages 8-18. For more grown-up opera fare, check out Opera Santa Barbara’s production of The Crucible by American composer Robert Ward, conducted by company Artistic Director Kostis Protopapas. The Pulitzer Prize-winning opera is based on Arthur Miller’s play and available on-demand here:
Education through Music-LA, which provides in-school music instruction for 42 campuses across LA County, has quickly mobilized its staff of music teachers to create a series of brief, kid-friendly videos. There are several dozen tutorials geared to specific age levels. But truth be told even videos targeting the kindergarten set are so informative, those of you (okay, me) with music degrees, admittedly attained some time ago, can learn something! For grades K-2: there’s an 8-minute primer on differentiating between rhythms and beats. Intended for 4th graders, this video demystifies the tricky concept of musical syncopation. Here’s the complete list of classes.
The USC Thornton School of Music has expanded its new digital series Live! From Somewhere to include alumni in addition to students. Internationally renowned classical guitarist Michael Kurdika received both his bachelor’s and his doctorate from Thornton. With this performance he shows off not only his dexterity as a player, but also his chops as a luthier; he’s playing a “historical-style” instrument he made himself. Kurdika is best known as an interpreter of modern music, working closely with such composers as Thomas Adès, Veronika Krausas, and Jeffrey Holmes. Here, he looks back to the late 15th century, bringing us a haunting tune by Josquin des Près.
Current USC Thornton students looked back to the late 16th century for this next installment of the Live! From Somewhere series. These are members of the school’s Baroque Sinfonia, now required to rehearse (and in some cases graduate!) remotely. They came together virtually for this rendition of an aptly titled John Dowland tune, “Now, Oh Now, I Needs Must Part”:
Audrey Vardanega, pianist and founder of Musaics of the Bay, the concert series and mentorship program, has announced what they’re calling the Stay-at-Home Symposium. It’s a commissioning project that brings together composers, performers, and the general public. Through May 22nd, they’re asking for submissions from the community of works of art – poems, drawings, photographs, stories – that will in turn inspire composers to write new pieces of music. As they describe it, “the Stay-at-Home Symposium is a much-needed way for the community to motivate the process by which new compositions are created and performed. We hope you will share the creative pieces that you turn to in these difficult times so that our performers and composers can use them as the inspiration for new music.” When finished, the works will be performed on YouTube, and eventually, (when it’s possible to do so safely) also in a live performance. If you’re not artistically inclined yourself, you’re still welcome to submit a work by someone else that has inspired you, to bring it to the attention of the composers (so long as it doesn’t violate copyright laws). The participating composers listed on the website include Milad Yousufi, Yifan Guo, Nick Main, Hannah Ishizaki, and Lauren Vandervelden. There’s a submission form for this first round on their website, with additional details.
No sooner did their upcoming spring concerts hit the dust—a fate shared by every orchestra in the world-then members of the Pacific Symphony began creating Quarantine Clips, brief concerts from the musicians’ homes with a new performance added daily. Pacific Symphony clarinetist Joshua Ranz accompanies himself in an arrangement for clarinet and basset clarinet of a work by Gustav Mahler. It’s two minutes of sheer magic from “The Youth’s Magic Horn.”
Some of the Quarantine Clips showcase members of the orchestra’s youth training programs. In this one, violinist Andrew Kao, who plays with the Pacific Symphony Santiago Strings, tosses off a showpiece by Nicolo Paganini. Based on his poised and confident intro to the piece, he would seem to have a future career in classical radio if the violin thing doesn’t work out.
Jeremy Cohen, violinist and founder of the ensemble Quartet San Francisco, recently sent a note saying:
There are a few things I’d like to accomplish while on Lockdown.
1. Familiarize myself with more of Shakespeare’s works
2. Improve my Tap Dancing skills
3. Improve my video chops
Here’s what I got done today, I hope you enjoy it!
The tune is called Huckleberry Duck, and was written in 1939 by Raymond Scott, the bandleader and composer of many novelty works that were often quoted by Carl Stalling in classic Looney Tunes cartoons. The QSF video combines footage of the quartet playing in concert back in January at Commonweal in Bolinas, with at-home performances by Cohen, Joseph Christianson, Chad Kaltinger, and Andres David Vera.
From the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s At Home series, violists Ben Ullery & Dana Lawson bring us the beautiful slow movement of the Viola Sonata No. 1 by Brahms, as well as Frank Bridge’s Lament for Two Violas. In the first piece, Dana handily switches out her viola for a piano.
The San Francisco Conservatory of Music has launched ‘Season 2’ of Tiny Dorm Concerts, with live performances on their YouTube channel and the Tiny Dorm Concerts webpage on their site. Among the special guests included in upcoming concerts are Garrick Ohlsson (May 8) and Frederica von Stade (May 11). There’s a Roots, Jazz, and American Music program on May 9, as well as an Opera Scenes showcase on May 15.
Voices of Music has shared another of their performances in HD video, from a December 2017 concert, of Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 6. Kati Kyme and Elizabeth Blumenstock play the baroque viola (the so-called viola da braccio, because it’s held by the arm); Elisabeth Reed and William Skeen play the viola da gamba; Tanya Tomkins, baroque cello; with Farley Pearce on the violone (the double-bass equivalent within the viol family of instruments) and the group’s co-director Hanneke van Proosdij on harpsichord.
Among the many performances that have been put on hold, as we wait for the safe return of concert-going, was the West Coast premiere of a new work by Mason Bates called Philharmonia Fantastique. It’s a co-commission of the San Francisco Symphony, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, National Symphony Orchestra, Dallas Symphony Orchestra, and Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. It blends music by Bates with film and animation that takes the audience through (and in some cases into) the instruments of the orchestra, and their four “tribes” of strings, winds, brass, and percussion. Part Young Person’s Guide, and part Fantasia for the Pixar generation, the 25 minute work has an animated character called “The Sprite” who reacts to the music as it’s played on stage by the orchestra. Here’s a preview, with a bit of a behind-the-scenes look at its creation, with Oscar-winning sound designer Gary Rydstrom from Skywalker Sound as director, and Pixar’s Jim Capobianco as writer.
The young musicians who rehearse so diligently as part of their rigorous training at American Youth Symphony faced a big disappointment this month: the cancellation of their ambitious spring concert. They’d been scheduled to play the U.S. premiere of a piece by American composer Richard Danielpour and the technically challenging Alpine Symphony of Richard Strauss. But you can still hear the amazingly rich orchestral sound they produce under Music Director Carlos Izcaray; videos on their YouTube channel include the all too rarely performed Third and final Symphony by Rachmaninoff:
Since Mehli Mehta took over the American Youth Symphony in 1964, the orchestra has served as a training ground for hundreds of professional musicians. Nearly 15 current players with the LA Phil are alums, and there are also former AYS musicians now playing with the San Francisco Symphony, the Berkeley Symphony, the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, LA Opera Orchestra, and the Pacific Symphony. To raise the funds necessary to continue to offer tuition-free training and free concerts, AYS is presenting its first Virtual Gala Thursday, May 7th at 4pm. The festivities include the world premiere of Music Director Carlos Izcaray’s new work entitled Geometric Unity.
Photo of American Youth Symphony Music Director Carlos Izcaray | Photo courtesy of the American Youth Symphony.
The Inner City Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles (ICYOLA) is another top Southern California training program currently suspended. ICYOLA provides inner-city youth with high-quality music education and performance opportunities (including Kids Discovery Days). It recruits its orchestra members without auditions, so it’s open to all. Their upcoming Disney Hall concert is canceled, but now you can enjoy performances from previous seasons. Here Charles Dickerson (founder and executive director of ICYOLA) conducting the stirring theme from The Big Country, music by Jerome Moross.
This month, the HEAR NOW Music Festival was supposed to be presenting its 10th anniversary season of informal concerts celebrating the music of Southern California composers in top-level performances. Since its founding in 2011 by artistic director and composer Hugh Levick and cellist Timothy Loo, HEAR NOW has introduced some 150 new and recent works by more than 100 local composers. Now the Festival is sprouting online. Concerts from recent seasons are posted on HEAR NOW’s website, with several new chamber performances to be added beginning April 30th. Here’s a preview: Road Music by John Adams, performed by two standouts on the LA contemporary music scene, violinist Alyssa Park and pianist Vicki Ray.